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It is becoming fashionable to argue that the low education achievement levels of African-Americans and Hispanics are caused by poverty.  This is tantamount to an argument that the problem is insolvable, as poverty, especially Black poverty, is unlikely to become the focus of governmental action any time soon.  In any case, I think that the premise is incorrect.  The cycle of Black poverty is driven by under-resourced schools and mass incarceration.  These underpin a vicious cycle, including high rates of violent felonies, resulting in yet more poverty.  The way out is through better schools and an end to mass incarceration.  Neither is sufficient in itself.

The lack of educational achievement of many Black children follows from the extraordinary rates at which their fathers are arrested and incarcerated. Imprisoned men can contribute little or nothing to save their children from lives spent in poverty. Even formerly imprisoned men all too often have little chance of finding work that can support their children above the poverty level, particularly given their own usual lack of effective educational attainment.

As housing patterns are strongly associated with household income, the families of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated men, especially if they are African-American, are among the most likely to live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

Schools in segregated neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are all-too-often inadequate to their mission. On the other hand, a Black student in an integrated suburban school — without regard to that student’s family income — can be as much as six times more likely to graduate on-time and college-ready than a Black student in a segregated urban school. Similarly, a Black student in a segregated, under-resourced, urban school, even a Black student from a middle class family, is unlikely to receive an education that will graduate him from high school on-time and college- or career-ready.

Because of the peculiarities of the drug laws and matters at the level of detail of police officer reward systems and the career patterns of district attorneys, concentrated poverty leads to disproportionately intense police activity and prosecutions in predominately Black neighborhoods. Quite apart from this, or, more exactly, in addition to this, neighborhoods and communities of concentrated poverty, Black or White, in themselves foster high rates of violent felonies.

High rates of incarceration of young Black men lead to high rates of concentrated poverty for their neighborhoods, neighborhoods where ineffective schools contribute to high rates of incarceration and poverty, which foster high rates of violent offensives, and so on and on. The combination of these factors put astonishing numbers of young adult Black men at risk of incarceration and give another turn to the wheel of disadvantage for their children.

Most people, particularly most African-Americans, are familiar with this situation. The question is, then, what is to be done to end disproportionate Black poverty?

The common response to the question is a resort to the American doctrine of individual responsibility. Issues of culture, community and psychology are, no doubt, important contributors to differing levels of achievement in education as well as to the disparities in incarceration rates. We are told that young Black men should pull up their socks (and their trousers) and simply do better in school and act better in the community. Examples of “beating the odds” and “resiliency” are featured by the media, foundations, community groups and inspirational speakers. These responses are ways of blaming the victims of racism and each in their own manner is a way of maintaining the system of racism. On the other hand, institutional policy decisions are clearly causal, definable and quantifiable and, possibly, given the public will, amenable to change.

The goal, after all, is not for individuals to beat the odds. The goal is to change the odds, or, rather, to change the game.

How is that to be done?

Combining programs to improve educational attainment for Black male students and to eliminate disparate rates of incarceration for matters such as drug offenses would cause the poverty rate for Black children to decline significantly and the income of the Black community to increase. As the Black community’s income increased, the rate of violent offenses and incarcerations for those would decrease, further increasing the community’s income and educational attainment.

Disproportionate Black poverty would begin to come to an end.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm sorry, but even though you have a good point, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jon Says, a2nite

    I think it is off the mark. As an example, since when is poverty, race specific? Also, why is any poverty cycle, race specific? Nobody, no matter what they look like or live, just one day is born to live in poverty. We create poverty and we are all guilty of its existence. This is the real cycle of poverty you are evading by being race specific.

    Just my two cents.

    Poverty and Income Inequality isn't Democratic, Justice or American. It is Tyranny.

    by Wendys Wink on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 10:28:31 AM PST

    •  Black Poverty (3+ / 0-)

      Well, the book from which this is derived is about Black poverty, which is, in fact, disproportionate and race specific.  Most Black people are poor and nearly all wealthy people are White, a situation that is imposed by under-resourcing schools with predominately Black student bodies and mass incarceration based on disproportionate arrests of Black young men for drug offenses.

    •  That's a very naive comment (0+ / 0-)

      You're implying that minorities are responsible for their perpetual poverty while ignoring the decades governmental policies and business practices that put them there in the first place.  It's ignorant to say that race hasn't and doesn't play the lead role in this.

      The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing online commenters that they have anything to say.-- B.F.

      by lcj98 on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 11:48:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is incarceration a disease or a symptom? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    Does a father make a better(or less worse) role model as a criminal on the streets or as a criminal behind bars? Does incarceration increase crime or decrease crime? Would we really be making at risk communities safer by reducing rates of incarceration to levels seen is more prosperous(and safer) communities? Is your prescription for these at risk communities less law enforcement or is it lighter sentencing for offenders?

    Everyone wants to see incarceration go down in all communities and amongst all races. But it is essential to recognize it as a symtom, not a disease.

    •  Black Poverty (3+ / 0-)

      The point here is mass incarceration for drug offenses.  As Michelle Alexander, Bruce Western and others have demonstrated, young Black men are disproportionately arrested, tried, and incarcerated for drug offenses, even though drug use is similar for all population groups.  

      This is not a matter of whether or not young Black men are "criminals," but of equal treatment under the law.

      •  Thank you for this beautifully (0+ / 0-)

        written diary that homes in on a subject I think we have difficulty with here at Daily Kos. You clarify a lot of issues. I chose to read it because of the connection to education, poverty, and the Achievement Gap, but I agree that the incarceration rate disparity is also a huge issue.

        That said, I want to question your statement here, and I do mean question in the sense that I don't know the answer:

        The point here is mass incarceration for drug offenses.
        I totally believe the statistics that black men are arrested more often and incarcerated more often for drug offenses than white people are. I don't doubt that. But when you use the term, "drug offenses," is that the same as the term, "drug-related crimes?"

        Some years ago, possibly while watching PBS news, I became aware that the term, "drug-related crime," can mean crimes like robbery, assault, breaking and entering, and even kidnapping, while under the influence of an illegal drug or connected to the buying or selling of an illegal drug.

        For example, in a documentary about the methamphetamine crisis in Oregon, a particular suspect was shown to illustrate the connection between his drug use and his criminal history with a narrative reading of his outstanding warrants, including the kinds of things I've listed above. The point being made was that this drug was illegal not only because of the devastating effect on children of users and the crisis in foster care, but also just the enormous increase in violent crime during the outbreak of this drug use.

        I don't believe white drug users sit around in their comfy homes, harming no one, laughing and watching TV, while black drug users go out and commit violent crimes. I believe you are right about the discrepancy in arrest and incarceration. But I hope you will clarify what you mean by "drug offenses."

  •  National Poverty Center provides the following (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood


    The poverty rate for all persons masks considerable variation between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.

    Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.

    And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 KJV

    by looking and listening on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 12:07:48 PM PST

  • list these 11 facts: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    1. What is the Poverty Line, anyway? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it's a family of four (two adults, two children) that earns less than $21,834.
    2. Still, $35,000 is basic-needs budget for a U.S. family of four (two adults, two children), as calculated in An Atlas of Poverty in America.
    3. In 2008, nearly 43.6 million people Americans lived in poverty (about 13.2% of the population); 12.9 million were under the age of 18.
    4. In the US, poverty is still tied to race: 24.7% of the African American population live below the poverty line while 8.6% of Caucasians do.
    5. School budgets are tied to property taxes. This is why schools in poor neighborhoods get about half as much money per student than schools in affluent neighborhoods.
    6. Three-quarters of the nation's schools (almost 60,000) report needing repairs, renovations or modernization in order to reach good condition.
    7. Not surprisingly, most schools in bad condition are in cities where at least 70% of students are below the poverty line.
    8. Urban students are less likely to graduate than their suburban counterparts. High school graduation rates are 15% lower in the nation’s urban schools when compared with those located in the suburbs.
    9. Graduation rates are also lower among certain groups, particularly ethnic minorities and males. In 2008, the graduation rate among African-Americans was 61.5% compared to 81% for whites.
    10. In 2008, 17 of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50%, with the lowest rates reported in Detroit (24.9%), Indianapolis (30.5%) and Cleveland (34.1%).
    11. Children of poor families are up to six times more likely to drop out than wealthy children.

    And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 KJV

    by looking and listening on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 12:13:21 PM PST

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