Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"New Orleans" just beneath the surface. . .many places

My trip to New Orleans on November 30, 2005, will be an experience I will always remember. The devastation of Katrina defies adequate description.

From what I hear, the city remains largely in disarray today. This is tragic.

As everyone admits, the storm pulled back the curtain on the poverty of the city. The storm set us up for a national embarassment.

The fact is many urban areas in our nation today contain a "New Orleans" just beneath the surface. Poverty in our cities is persistant, pervasive and perilous.

The J. McDonald Williams Institute, the research arm of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, has published a comparison of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward with the Frazier community here in Dallas. Katrina wiped the Lower Ninth Ward off the map, a section populated by the city's poorest residents. The Frazier community here in Dallas rates as one of our poorest areas.

How do the two neighborhoods compare?
Take a look:

Racial/Ethnic Diversity

The Lower Ninth Ward (LNW) 98.4% African American
City of New Orleans (NO) 66.6% African American

Frazier Community (FC) 71.8% African American
City of Dallas (DAL) 23.8% African American

Homeownership Rates

13% less for FC than for city of Dallas
10% higher for LNW than for NO

Poverty Levels

Families below poverty line LNW 32.77%
Families below poverty line NO 24.23%

Families below poverty line FC 33.25%
Families below poverty line DAL 12.53%


58.6% for LNW
62.6% for Frazier


40% of LNW adults lack high school diploma
25% of NO adults lack high school diploma

60% of Frazier adults lack high school diploma
26% of DAL adults lack high school diploma

Viewing the situation in Dallas through this data, it is clear that our problems are every bit as challenging, and then some, as those facing New Orleans before the hurricane struck. Further, the gap between residents of the Frazier community and the general populace in Dallas is greater than the gap between residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and the general poplulace in New Orleans prior to the terrible storm.

Poverty in America is a real problem across our urban landscape.

"New Orleans" is everywhere.


Daniel said...

One of my friends I met on told me something about that. but she never told me the detailed number and percentage.

Maybe it is time for the government and governors to do something.

Daniel Pennant

chris said...

Then again, the government may have caused the problem. The people were so accustomed to be taken care of that they forgot how to do it themselves.

travis stanley said...


I would say that if you've ever spent time among the poor in our country, you will realize that there are not enough social services out there to adequately care for the poor. People are starving on our streets. This does not seem to be a people who are poor because someone has been taking care of them too much.

While there may be some who have the "luxury" of having the government take care of them so much so that they forget how to care for themselves, the reality is that most of the poor are poor because of situations beyond their control. They remain poor, not because they have no desire to help themselves, but because of a broken system that prevents people who are on the bottom to ever advance to the point of being able to care for themselves.

Daniel Gray said...

I wouldn't doubt that there are some in poverty who are happy in a dependence state and have no desire to care for themselves and be independent. However, I get the impression that the overwhelming majority of poor are not happy that they have to depend on someone else. Most people in poverty want to be independent, to have pride in caring for themselves -- however, they simply can't do it in the current context of society. Society is not conducive to the situation, and like Travis said, there's just not enough assistance to go around in helping people rebuild their assets and regain their footing.

Marilynn said...

Poverty is poverty. The location and the people affected matter - WHEREver and HOWever they got there. AND I don't think waiting around for 'the government'(any government body), or for someone else to make a difference in their lives is an option. If not us, who? If not today, when?
Throwing money and bodies at some of the immediate needs in our neighborhoods won't fix the problems, but it may help make things more tolerable until changes can be made by those in power. Which brings us back to government...who decides who governs? If not us, who?
Some of the very people living in proverty in Dallas don't vote. I met two of them Monday while helping out in the CDM Food pantry. I asked them why and got the expected response - they didn't think they could change anything. I told them perhaps on the national level their one vote might not make a noticable difference but I urged them to consider the local issues and the candidates they could see and hear and read about, right here in Dallas.
I hope I was compassionate and persuasive enough and that perhaps those two left here feeling different, maybe even empowered. If not now, when?

Justin said...


I respect your view, because I've been there, and still am to some extent. I don't know that cutting off poor people is the answer, but I also don't believe just throwing more money into government bureaucracy is the answer either. I think more than anything, the people need hope. When you are surrounded by despair constantly, when the only male role models you have are in gangs, when your mother is out working and you're 7 years old and home by yourself surrounded by violence and the biproducts of the cycle of poverty, there just aren't a lot of options.

I think a great solution would be some kind of new homesteading. Not necessarily giving away land, but maybe a house in a nicer neighborhood for meeting certain requirements. If you get and hold a job, whatever it is, for a certain amount of time (still getting govt assistance) you get a free house in a more suburban area. Funding is necessary (and if the money is spent wisely, it will save money on police and government services later) but there need to be incentives, because without it, it is too easy to fail because you've always got some kind of parachute.

Larry James said...

Justin, thanks for the post. I like the way you are thinking here--creative and incentive.

HUD actually has a program, not that old, for people in the housing voucher program that acts like a lease to own arrangement so that some of what they pay toward their housing can be credited toward buying a first home. As hard as it may seem for many to believe, our government has some great programs that actually put people on the road to better lives.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe the issue is whether or not there is people content with living off assistance. There might be some they enjoy being dependent, but coming from a family that had some assistance from the governmetn at one point I know that there are no luxuries that go along with it. There was only shame and frustration that went along with assistance. Even if there are a few that like living off assistance it gives us no right to look down on all of them and treat them disrespectfully. The issue for us as Christians is not how they got into poverty, but how we can help. The early Church gave to everyone who had need; who do we give to?

Giving is not enough either. Poverty is not an individual level problem as Larry's post points out poverty is everywhere. The fact that poverty is everywhere should point us to bigger factors such as structural factors. Not everyone is on an equal playimg field in America some have more advantages than others. This is what we call injustice, and this injustice is caused by society and forces that are bigger than individuals. Injustice is what we are called to end as Christians. Maybe the only way to end injustice is to advocate change and stop remaining silent. Why is social change a taboo for Christians?