PovertySolutions

Urban Change

Brookings recently bundled a range of studies regarding Americans born poor and who among them, are much less likely to move up the income ladder in comparison to other racial groups, especially whites. Why? The short answer is zero progress.

Many factors are at work, but the heart of the zero progress problem is education and the direct relationship it has with inequality. For African-Americans the data shows a gap in college achievement that remains wide, those with undergraduate degrees are less wealthy than white counterparts, and the chance that both spouses will have undergraduate degrees are lower.

The concentration of poverty is unfair. One of the steps taken was population dispersion under many names – national highways, urban renewal, demonstration cities renamed to model cities and so on. By the mid-seventies, a fragment of local power began to form in defense of those left behind. A nod from the power brokers produced community-based nonprofit development corporations. They would become advocates for people willing to grab at rungs on the ladder and straps on their boots.

Only a little of this worked, urban blight and deterioration was reduced and new mechanisms to alter America’s manifest destiny as a “white-thing” acquired a civil rights and “strength through diversity” foothold. A beautifully accurate book that fails to be persuasive (like lots of academic work) says somewhat antiseptically:

“While taking steps to enhance families’ ability to live wherever they choose is essential, attempting to engineer the movement of large numbers of families from specified high-poverty neighborhoods to specified destination neighborhoods should not be a primary policy approach to ending the cycle of multigenerational disadvantage.”

The resilience of investment in urban redevelopment will require non-displacement policies coupled with durable human capital investments that flatten the barriers to the correction of past wrongs. The physical list is long and easy to draw from lead paint to cheap housing in flood plains under the big heading of environmental racism to the lack of equal protection under the law, the list is short on changes needed in the psychology of human relationships built on ignorant concepts of race. Patrick Sharkey, describes much of this in Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality. Urban policy discussion is excellent following standard academic style of argument.

The Workplace
Differences in isolation and subtle forms of prejudice make the question of racial discrimination an unsettled scientific matter. Even though subject to indirect methods of measure, discrimination levels in American society may has decreased over time in dense urban areas, largely because of proximity and shared experiences, workplaces reflecting the diversity of the city, professional sports teams, and packed subway cars to name a few. In dense areas, opportunities for cultural integration grow and change quickly. The study of change in workplace discrimination against African Americans has been ongoing since 1989, and this work suggests that it has not changed much nationally. Because of the persistence of discrimination in US labor markets is more striking in less dense areas masking progress in city’s such as NYC.

The Parenting Society
Families are institutions with exalted political value and except in cases of neglect or extreme abuse, parents across the full spectrum of the population and family type have the liberty to set their own bar on parenting quality. This means there are families who do not know they are not creating a supportive and stimulating home for their kid and more than likely resent it as an accusation. The measure of a child’s chances of cycle-ending success begins with the family through six major resource investments.
The link between parenting quality, income, race, education, and action regarding the issues raised tends to be “unclicked” by legislators in preference to the family stereotype. Policymakers on the other hand demand specific attention to the full spectrum of family needs. Their studies examine patterns of parenting quality. They also know how to design programs that get to those who might benefit. The projected result are kids on pathways that break the cycle of poverty, overcome the sensitivities of race and become cross-cultural without losing the gratification of their origins. This kind of liberation comes from exceptional educators and fantastic health care experts with unique training and talents. Parents who have a low income, are poorly educated, are African-American, Hispanic, or unmarried and all of the above, need the well-paid time of these professionals and they are not getting it. They are the ones who can disentangle the influence of race from socioeconomic status.

Parenting influences child outcomes, and good programs improve parenting. The proof is in the depth of scholarly articles surrounding the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) using data following participants to 1979 to 2014. Disadvantaged children face complex internal and external threats, so it is a given that policies, and investment in professional intervention can eliminate them all on both fronts. Mobility on the social change scale will remain beyond the reach of public policy without agreement to this as fact. The graphic illustration above comes from one of those scholarly articles entitled, The Parenting Gap by Richard V. Reeves and Kimberly Howard (here). It examines parenting issues with sampling data and provides an extensive bibliography. The trial of a program (Memphis, TN) that integrated health professionals with low-income mothers who rank below the sample median on an index of intelligence, mental health, sense of mastery, and self-efficacy. These are amazing thoughtful findings, accurate and true, supported with an extraordinary depth of peer-review findings. They are persuasive, but the barriers that create unfairness remain, so the question is why and what is missing in their arguments to produce implementation?

The Money Society
How do you fully understand the return on investment in people and places? The answer is in the free availability of public policy data that shows how private resources combine to meet goals. Public abstractions such as, “a more perfect union” or “freedom and justice for all” must have proof of progress in the publicusb investment realm. Private abstractions such as accelerating the advent of transport with electric cars must also have proof to sustain investors.

The current challenge is how to recognize major efforts from the private business community to reduce public information through privatization.

Data on social mobility continues to disappear from the public record when it becomes private. Without unrestricted data, public goals cannot be accurately developed, stated or confirmed if accomplished. This leaves only one measure. The success or failure of capital invested in goods that produce returns. The proof of how this endeavor creates a better country in terms of diversity in social mobility would remain an unknown. When groups of people start decrying the lack of fairness and it is unprovable, the measures and tools for proof are hidden or gone. Who has them and where are they?

Perhaps the best example is how difficult it has been to prove the need for vitality in a reform movement dealing with incarceration, the rates of incarceration, and who is incarcerated. The data calls it out as a pure aberration of justice with a zero chance of a remedy attached. There is a range of problems that ring of discrimination when prison populations who cannot vote are used sustain a rural congressional seat. The continuation of policies that help to assure one third of the 620,000 people released from prison return.  In this example alone the great American Aparthied is revealed and the movement for reform has begun.  Another crime in the name of the money society is the failure to collect mortgage data (HMDA plus) and protect consumers from unfair practices that lead to the denial of access to credit.  Here again, the federal reponsibility to conduct its business in ways that reduce inequality can be ignored by cutting back on the information needed to show progress.

Brookings is one of those “think tanks” considered to be left of center as its focus tends to be on proof of progress in eliminating the failure of American Democracy to assure human dignity and make right its mistakes, especially in how public policy has wrongly damaged the lives of its minority citizens.

These issues described above are conducted by groups like Brookings at the deep end of the pool.  If any reader here would like to take some time to make it make sense on your block, in your neighborhood and with your neighors please do so.  Link your work, in your blog, or place of work to people focused on their Congressional Districts and the city and state representation shared by that district.

Deep end: Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective (PDF) and see the result of poor outcomes for black men. See longer Technical Paper (PDF), and the full Results here.

Get into it…