Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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Sure, there are lots of gangs. And, it’s true, most homicides in Chicago, where a person is shot every 2 and a half minutes and murdered every 14 hours, are from gunshots.

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But, in the City of Neighborhoods, not everyone is affected equally by gangs and guns. In fact, as the New York Times explains,

Whether exacerbated by gangs or guns. . .Chicago’s killings are happening on familiar turf: Its poor, extremely segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

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Those segregated neighborhoods also happen to be where rates of unemployment and poverty are highest.

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The more or less inevitable result of creating and perpetuating an urban economy characterized by high rates of unemployment and poverty, in which racial and ethnic minorities are forced to endure much higher rates of unemployment and poverty and are then segregated into a few neighborhoods, is the fact that “the South and West Sides are on par with the world’s most dangerous countries, like Brazil and Venezuela, and have been for many years.”

Thus far in 2016, 1530 Chicagoans have been shot, of whom 1299 have been wounded and 231 have been killed.

And, while on the surface they’ve been assaulted by gangs and guns, too many Chicagoans have actually been wounded or killed by a City of Unequally Unemployed and Impoverished Segregated Neighborhoods.

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In Italy, 28.3 percent of the population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2014.*

Yet, in a recent Italian court case, a homeless man who had been convicted of stealing a few euros worth of cheese and sausage was eventually acquitted on the principle that “No one is expected to do the impossible.”

“The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the merchandise theft took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of need,” and therefore the theft “does not constitute a crime,” the appellate court wrote in its decision, which was reported on Monday by the Italian news agency ANSA. . .

“For the supreme judges, the right to survival has prevailed over the right to property,” Massimo Gramellini, an editor at La Stampa, a newspaper based in Turin, wrote in an opinion column. “In America that would be blasphemy. And here as well, some conformists will talk about a legitimation of proletarian expropriation.”

That’s right. In the United States, the homeless people who steal merchandise are convicted and sent to jail—while the members of the economic elite who created the poverty in the first place demand of the poor that they do the impossible.

 

*That’s less than the percentage of the U.S. population (pdf) with incomes below twice the official poverty level (33.4 percent) in 2014.

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For those of us of a certain age, especially those of us raised in Catholic households, Father Daniel Berrigan—through his activism and poetry, against war and militarism, racism, poverty and inequality—was one of the true consciences of a church and a nation.

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Special mention

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In the current century, just as at the beginning of the last one, the dominant discourse of the poor has been plainly wrong.

As Katha Pollitt asks (in her review of Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City), 

What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals – that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values – or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable?

As it turns out, there is a lot of money to be made from “a dilapidated trailer park or a black neighbourhood of ‘sagging duplexes, fading murals, 24-hour daycares’.”

Tobin Charney makes $400,000 a year out of his 131 trailers, some of which are little better than hovels. Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher who is one of the only black female landlords in the city, makes enough in rents on her numerous properties – some presentable, others squalid – to holiday in Jamaica and attend conferences on real estate.

And, in turn, poor people are held back from the rent they’re forced to have the freedom to pay.

The main condition holding them back, Desmond argues, is rent. The standard measure is that your rent should be no more than 30% of your income, but for poor people it can be 70% or more. After he paid Sherrena his $550 rent out of his welfare cheque, Lamar had only $2.19 a day for the month. When he is forced to repay a welfare cheque he has been sent in error and falls behind on rent, he sells his food stamps for half their face value and volunteers to paint an upstairs apartment, but it is not enough. People such as Lamar live in chronic debt to their landlord, who can therefore oust them easily whenever it is convenient – if they demand repairs, for example, like Doreen, or if a better tenant comes along. Sherrena liked renting to the clients of a for-profit agency that handles – for a fee – the finances of people on disability payments who can’t manage on their own. Money from government programmes intended to help the poor – welfare, disability benefits, the earned-income tax credit – go straight into the landlord’s pocket and, ironically, fuel rising housing costs. Public housing and housing vouchers are scarce. Three in four who qualify for housing assistance get nothing.

There continues to be an enormous amount of poverty in this rich nation—and the system is maintained both because there’s profit to be made by slumlords and because evictions serve to destroy the lives of the poor and the communities they live in.