Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Structural Causes Of Longterm Poverty

The most recent issue of Political Science Quarterly has an article by professor and author William Julius Wilson which discusses why many people in the United States are trapped in longterm poverty.  The title of the article is “The Political and Economic Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty.”

(The full article is online for free. Though other material in PSQ is not for free. This is just how it should be. The people at PSQ need to earn a living  just like you and I. Nothing is  “free.” Somewhere along the line is a cost. I bought a copy of the magazine because I want to help keep the folks at PSQ in business.) 

There is nothing groundbreaking in the piece, but it discusses facts that can never be mentioned enough. Many of  the reasons people are poor are built into the fabric of society and are not the fault of  the people in poverty.    

Consider the great majority of the people who have lost jobs in the current downturn. We don’t blame these people for what has happened because of our deep recession. It’s not so much of a leap to also understand there are many reasons why people are poor that have nothing to with lack of effort or an unwillingness to work.

Here are some of the issues cited by Dr. Wilson in his report—

* Federal housing polices going back to the New Deal years that excluded certain neighborhoods from getting a government assisted mortgage. These limits most often impacted black people.

* The fact that many poor people simply cannot afford a car to get to where the jobs are. (Or where the jobs were as the case may be today.)

* Cities and states building highways that isolated poor neighborhoods. Mr. Wilson mentions the first Mayor Daley of Chicago as a leading culprit in this respect. 

* Cuts in the beginning in the Reagan years, and extending up to the G.W. Bush administration, to government programs that had in the past helped the poor.

* Use of deed restrictions and zoning laws to keep poor people out of certain communities and, in that way, limiting access to “moving up” in society.

* The “jobless recovery” after the 2001 recession that did little to help the most poor.

It should be noted here that the architects of the New Deal and Mayor Daley were Democrats. Some of the hope that comes with Mr. Obama, comes from the fact that at the national level the more hardcore racists and nuts have been fully pushed over into the Republican side of the aisle. We no longer have to placate these people to such a degree.  

Though the toughness of the negotiations on the recently passed stimulus bill is a caution against that hope. The hard-hearted nutballs never retreat in full.  

Here are a number of statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that discuss poverty in the United States.

Here is information on poverty in America from the Gerald R. Ford School of Government at the University of Michigan. It is asserted here that 12.5% of Americans were poor in 2007. That number must be higher today.

Life is hard and people are often marked from birth when it comes to who will be successful or not. This not mean that people don’t rise out of poverty to do well, or that the children of the affluent don’t sometimes amount to nothing, but dumb luck plays a big part in who does well or not.

Dumb luck, and our ongoing willingness to accept the fact that millions of our fellow Americans will likely never be able to enjoy the full range of opportunity in our society. These are some of the biggest problems we face in addressing chronic poverty in the United States.

February 12, 2009 - Posted by | Politics | , , , , ,


  1. Neil, I liked your post. I would like to add education to the list. As long as America continues to fund schools, primarily, through property taxes there will be serious educational disadvantages for children born in poor areas. Obama can reform No Child Left Behind and encourage young people to teach in urban areas, but if the structure used to fund education is not changed poverty will not really decrease.

    American Reality

    Comment by Jonathan Simeone | February 12, 2009

  2. Jonathan—Nothing I can add to improve on that helpful point.

    I’ll put your blog on my blogroll. Please visit this shop again.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | February 12, 2009

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