Notes From Babel

Is There Such a Thing as "Generational Poverty" in the United States?

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Jamelle at League of Ordinary Gentlemen writes:

There are a constellation of problems – hyper-segregation, extreme inner-city poverty, the black urban underclass, hell, affirmative action – which don’t make any sense unless you have a firm grasp on the policy history of African-Americans and the federal government’s refusal to invest economically in African-American communities. Inner cities desperately need targeted programs to alleviate black unemployment and create educational and employment opportunities. But those won’t happen, in large part, because Americans simply don’t understand the role government has had in creating those problems, and the responsibility we all bear for solving them.

For what it’s worth, I don’t expect that to change; if we acknowledge the federal government’s role in creating generational black poverty, then necessarily have to acknowledge the federal government’s equally direct role in building the wealth of middle-class white America.

I don’t have the faintest idea what is meant by “generational black poverty.” The Homestead Act was in place before my ancestors got here. And at the end of all those other federal government programs, my mom found herself growing up in housing projects in Oakland. But as soon as she graduated high school at 17 she left and got a job and a couple years later married my dad, also with nothing more than a high school education, and with their respective jobs as telephone operator and mail carrier, made a nice life for themselves. I cannot jam into my brain’s belief center the notion that their being white saved them from what otherwise would have been “generational white poverty.”

There is perhaps a culture, a mindset of failure that is causing something like “generational black poverty.” And maybe that is what is meant by the author. But that is a problem that simply cannot be ameliorated by government. Particularly federal government. Granted, the federal government made quite a mess of things in its romp through two centuries of American history. But there’s no good to come from insisting the bull march back into the china shop and tidy up after itself.


Written by Tim Kowal

August 7, 2009 at 4:31 am

Posted in Race and the Law

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