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June 4, 2007

portrait of the inner city

(Manchester, NH) A study by Lois M. Quinn (pdf) dramatizes the suffering of poor urban Americans in 2007--and exemplifies useful scholarship at an urban public institution. On behalf of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Employment and Training Institute, Quinn describes one zip code, 53206, where:

  • 62% of the men in their early thirties are now or have been in state prisons;
  • The number of incarcerations for "drug offenses only" has risen by 493% since 1993 (but more incarcerations are for assault than for drug offenses);
  • Women in their 30s outnumber men by 3 to 2;
  • Housing prices have risen by at least 50% in the last three years;
  • The average income of tax-filers (a small proportion of the population) was $17,547; 90 percent of these individuals are single parents;
  • Two thirds of consumer spending is outside the zip code;
  • Ninety percent of people who declare income from working in the zip code live outside it;
  • 56 percent of people who declare income from working in the zip code are white even though 97 percent of the residents are African American; and
  • More than three quarters of loans to homeowners are subprime or high interest.
  • From Census data, we can also tell that this zip code has:

  • a very high ratio of children to adults;
  • a median household income of about $20,000 with a median of 3.1 people in each household;
  • housing stock that is mostly at least 55-65 years old;
  • almost no immigrants.
  • Needless to say, there are many other zip codes like Milwaukee 53206.

    I am all for Asset-Based Community Development, building on indigenous resources, local leadership, and culture-change. I am suspicious that pouring in money could solve poverty by itself, because the money is usually misapplied by powerful outsiders. However, civic, participatory, grassroots strategies need to work for people in places like 53206--and quickly. That is the test of whether they are worth anything at all.

    June 4, 2007 7:09 AM | category: none


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