Are poverty and homelessness finally receiving the attention they have long deserved? In Los Angeles, homelessness is the current flavor of the day, but we’ll see.
Poverty has been a disowned truth throughout US history and a soiled part of the fabric of virtually every society. Arguably, it has not been scorned, but deemed necessary by the ruling class in many countries. Poverty has been studied ad nauseam, ignored universally, and officially accorded a top priority by democratic societies. Nevertheless, it remains an enduring cancer, especially for those genuinely concerned with eradicating it. Through it all, Blacks remain “faces at the bottom of the well.”
A U.S. Census report noted between 2011 and 2012, poverty stayed the same nationally while the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grew and the wealthy gained income. In 2013, poverty was substantially unchanged; at 15 percent, but poverty for African Americans, at more than 27 percent, had not improved. Even in the face of this data, Congress cut food programs by $40 billion, which eliminated between 2 and 4 million people from the program and those remaining had more stringent work requirements. With official unemployment exceeding 7 percent for the nation, where were the poor supposed to find jobs? The congressional vote was extremely close with a margin of about ten votes separating those who decided to maintain food assistance and those who wanted to cut it. Julianne Malveaux, economist and President Emerita of Bennett College for Women, concluded, “America really does not care about its poor people.” It’s hard to argue with her assessment.
National data concerning the African American consumer shows their buying power continues to increase but only a relatively small percentage of that power is spent within Black neighborhoods. Further, mainstream media seldom focuses on the needs and concerns of Black people. For a true picture, data on Black consumers must be disaggregated in order to take into full account Blacks’- poor Blacks, especially- limited access to employment opportunities and adequate resources.
There are 45 million Blacks in the U.S. and 53% of the Black population is under the age of thirty-five; 54% of the adult Black population is female; 59% of Blacks live in the South; 71% own Smart phones and 37% watch more television than any other group.
The data for the Los Angeles area are similar to the nations’; poverty has gone up while the median household income increased or remained statistically the same. The Census Bureau also indicated that Los Angeles area residents pay substantially more for homes and rent than the rest of the nation. (It is increasingly evident that gentrification-the displacement/banishment of Blacks in Los Angeles- also contributes to poverty.) About 34% of Blacks are foreign- born compared to 15% nationwide; more three- and four-year-old children in the Los Angeles area are enrolled in pre-school than in the rest of the nation, yet the area is behind the nation when it comes to high school graduation rates.
A Census Bureau survey showed that in 2012, 17.6% of people in the Los Angeles area were in poverty, an increase from 17% in 2011. (With Blacks heading the list, these figures have increased substantially since then.) At the same time, 20.9% of the area’s population lacked health insurance coverage, a decrease from 21% in 2011. The median household income ($57,271) was statistically unchanged but African Americans’ income in the Los Angeles area was significantly lower. In fact, Blacks are at the bottom of virtually every economic and educational indicator; this will not change unless and until there is sustainable collaborative planning and action by Black leaders commensurate with the needs of their constituents.
An op-ed article, Rich Brain, Poor Brain, in the Los Angeles Times by Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, suggests a novel (and frightening ) contributor to the persistence of poverty, despite all efforts to reduce it. U.S. and British Columbia scholars explored the concept of “cognitive load.” The frontal cortex is the region of the brain that mediates such functions as decision-making, emotional regulation and long-term planning—‘’…It also plays a key role in many of the things rich people tend to do better than poor people.” (This has the potential for additional stereotyping, and should not be accepted by the public unless that potential is a prominent factor in the study.)
This research shows poor people’s “frontal function is impaired because the cognitive load increased with other things such as more distracting tasks, stress, sleep deprivation and pain.” The study suggests that being poor means your brain has to work “mighty hard” if you’re constantly trying to figure out how to keep your head above water. In other words, “poor people have a greater cognitive load than rich people which leads to poor decision-making and counterproductive behavior.”
As implied earlier, this fanciful research could be interpreted as suggesting Black people themselves are the major cause for their disproportionate poverty rates, further victimizing the victims. The impact of racism and white privilege must be included in such studies.
Since slavery, African Americans have been kept disproportionately poor by design and for reasons that still exist in the 21st century. Black poverty will only be reduced because of demands crafted by Blacks themselves, supported by their allies. Only sustainable pressure will force white America to meet Blacks’ righteous demands.