The majority of poor people are those who experience chronic -- and even multigenerational -- poverty (Iceland, 2003). In the United States many of the chronically poor live in urban environments. These environments, characterized by high concentrations of poor high concentrations of people of color and concentrated disadvantage, have been characterized as areas of moral as well as economic failure.
In this paper, I will contend that conditions in these regions serve to hold individuals in poverty and to perpetuate multigenerational poverty through diminished human capital and reduced social capital.
Human capital is defined as the skills and abilities that enable an individual to behave in a manner that is successful in his or her environment. Social capital is the relationships between individuals that facilitate action (Coleman, 1988). The combination of the two allows some individuals and communities to make use of opportunities and to organize for positive change. The absence of either isolates individuals from opportunity or makes them unable to take advantage of opportunities to which they are exposed.
Racial Segregation and Poverty
It is impossible to discuss urban poverty without discussing race. Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately poor. While 10.6% of White Americans are poor, according to the U.S. Census, 24.4% of Black Americans and 21.5% of Latino Americans are poor. Wilson (1987) argues that the effects of living in economically isolated areas outweighed the effects of living in racially isolated areas for African-Americans. Isolation from employment opportunities and employed role models, he argues, has left poor black communities effectively shut off form participation in the economy. Further, he argues, negative stereotypes of poor minorities hinder the employment opportunities of all minorities from the same neighborhood.
Massey counters that the limited mobility of African-Americans placed them at a significant disadvantage with respect to the effects of living in areas of concentrated disadvantage (Massey, Condran and Denton, 1987; Massey, 1996). Because of a history of housing discrimination, blacks are the most racially segregated group in the United States. As a result, when poverty rates rose during the 1970’s and 1980’s, due to structural changes in the economy, the brunt of that poverty was born in predominantly black neighborhoods. Second, because of increasing class segregation, the brunt of all unemployment was felt in neighborhoods that were both predominantly black and predominantly poor (Massey, 1996).
The effects of concentrated poverty are magnified in minority children. Black and Latinos are more likely to live in predominantly poor areas. As a result, 30% of all Latino and 40% of all Black children attend schools that are between 70% and 100% poor while 6% of white children attend schools that are more than 70% poor (Center for Cities and Schools).
The effects of being...