Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Affluent Dallas. . .Poor Dallas. . .Our Children

Each year the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas conducts a "community needs assessment." Each year the direction and scope of funding for programs is largely determined by this study.

Reading the report thrashes me every year. I feel ripped back and forth from depression and despair to rage, with lots in between!

Consider just a few facts of life for children who live in Dallas, Texas, one of the most affluent communities in the world.
  • Over 17% of the families in Dallas live at or below the poverty line.
  • The percentage of our neighbors who live in poverty has risen from 13.5% in 1990 to 17% today, while our population has grown dramatically.
  • Dallas has exceeded the state's average for percentage of impoverished families.
  • Fully half (50%) of Dallas' impoverished population is under 18.
  • One in four (25%) children under 5-years-old are poor in Dallas--up from 1 of 5 (20%) not long ago.
  • Twenty-two percent of those in poverty are between ages 5 and 17.
  • 39% of female-headed households that have children are living in poverty.

What kind of city accepts such harsh realities for its families?

Upon reading some of these grim facts about life in Dallas, Jeremy Gregg, Central Dallas Ministries' Director of Development, asked me this question, "What kind of community do we live in, where our wives would have nearly a 40% chance of living in poverty if we were not here?"

He went on to say, "I think of my daughter growing up in Dallas, and I imagine the various paths that would lead her to become one of our neighbors. More and more, I realize that her future depends less on the choices that she makes than on the choices that Natalie and I make."

And, I would add, the choices that our community's leaders make. I would also want to discuss just how the opportunities afforded individuals and families are spread out over our community.

The inequities remain absolutely glaring.

Charles Senteio, another colleague of mine here at CDM who directs our Institute for Faith Health Research-Dallas, keeps saying that "people matter." But until we begin to act as if they do, the message is lost, inauthentic and simply a cruel charade.

We have a long ways to go to turn this around. And, there is no time to waste.

10 comments:

Jeremy Gregg said...

I still think it all comes down to this:

"Do I matter?"

Your blog hear was excellent on it:
http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/2006/07/common-beginnings-different-outcomes.html

Jeremy Gregg said...

.... and yes, I am simply using this excuse to put up more pictures of my daughter. :)

Michael Davis said...

Larry,

Since moving to Oak Cliff from Uptown Dallas, it's like night and day. On some streets you have 2-3 good houses on an entire block.

Sometimes I feel like no one listens to us. We have to make sure we put the right people in place during the next election for Mayor and City Council. That why I look specifically for people that have community involvement.

You have some now, like Angela Hunt, that understand the need for quality housing for neghborhoods for all. Most of them, I will be glad to see hit the door come May.

The kids and families of Dallas deserve better.

Mike Davis
Dallas Progress

Marshall said...

Another great post. The trend is disturbing, to say the least. And I totally agree with your overall message: What kind of city, what kind of society, what kind of person lets people live like this in their own back yards? I'm glad people are focusing on the problem, but is there a solution out there? What can we as caring, concerned citizens do to reverse this? Is the answer more pressure on government, or more direct action, or something altogether different?

Congratulations on your accomplishments yesterday. I heard you interviewed on NPR on my way home from work - it's exciting to see progress being made.

KentF said...

Does anyone have any idea how this relates to other cities such as Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, etc.? Thanks for the info.

Keep up the fight and blog Michael!

Larry James said...

Marshall, thanks for your post and your question. The answer is "all of the above!" Citizens who are concerned must learn how to communicate effectively and regularly with elected officials and other public policy leaders. Concerned people need to consider running for office. Beyond this we need to get involved at the community level through organizations and donations. Volunteer at a school, become a big brother or sister, work with your church on poverty issues, etc.

Larry James said...

Michael, thanks for your post. I couldn't agree more! We need to stay in the battle and we need to support officials who stand with us.

Justin said...

I was just wondering Larry... and this is no way meant in a maliceful way.

Democrats, who supposedly care for the poor more than republicans, have been in control of Memphis proper for several years, yet violence and poverty is just as bad as ever,and the city is in massive financial trouble. Is it just that Memphis hasn't elected enough Democrats, or is it the fault of the rich who leave places when tax rates get out of control?

Larry James said...

KentF, you will find similar stats for the cities you mentioned and the lines are trending in the same negative direction.

Justin, good questions. Actually, neither party seems to be directing much focused attention on the issues related to generational poverty in our dense urban centers. What is needed in Memphis, I am assuming, is what we need in Dallas: creative leadership to bring private sector and public sector leaders and resources together to attack the problems and the concentrations of poverty and hopelessness. It isn't just a matter of partisan politics. . .it is all about commitment, follow through and workable plans.

Anonymous said...

Shelby County poverty rates:
1989 - 19.9%
2003 - 16.6%

Memphis Crime rates (city-data.com)
shows mixed results. But in the last 3 years crime rates have been decreasing.

Change takes time...