A brief history of poverty in the US

At one point there were no “ghettos”. There were no projects, and there were not as many predominant racial barriers as there are today. What changed? It was a mixture of the repression of civil rights, redlining, and welfare. In 1935 a new slavery was introduced to African Americans—sharecropping. Planters loaned cash to African Americans to buy seeds, food, equipment and rent in order to grow their own crops. However debt kept the tenants locked into farming for years. The farmers were always short for the payments, and thus started the next year with a deficit and had to work even harder to try to pay off the debts. Soon the debts would accumulate and the African American farmers were stuck in an endless cycle of debt, unable to escape it.

This was just one of the many first steps to prevent African Americans on being able to practice their first civil right—the American dream. Not even social security could help them leave the cycle, because most African Americans were excluded from the program. The same year the Wagner Act was passed, and unions became legal, which colored people were not allowed to join. During this period of time, African Americans were excluded from most new social programs, including the National Housing Act of 1934. The Federal Housing Administration had the jurisdiction to decide which loans were “economically sound” and therefore used redlining to discriminate against African Americans seeking a loan for a house. This would have a snowball effect resulting into what we now call “the projects” or housing projects. Some of these housing projects are situated in the infamous Harlem, West Baltimore, and Chicago, just to name a few. It’s not just the poor housing in which a majority of its inhabitants are either Hispanic or African American that has created its own culture and cycle within itself, but also the effects the color of welfare has on these families. Welfare was introduced under Lyndson Johnson’s “War on Poverty” that created an “equal-opportunity welfare state”.  Little at the time did anyone realize the creation of a welfare state would blow-up into the problem it is today. Racial discrimination restrained black men on finding jobs in order to leave the projects, and conservatives who believed in the traditional American family refused to pass a law that would allow child care for all welfare moms, especially black ones. Families were, and still are, stuck in these impoverished communities without a way to leave. Gang violence has created an atmosphere of fear, an underground drug economy has taken control, and drug addictions have perpetuated the cycle of poverty. But most detrimental, is the stigma surrounding poor black and Hispanics. People—typically people who benefit from rugged individualism, who blame these people born into poverty of their own fate and advocate that no social reform can fix the problem, and that if they truly wanted to leave, they would follow the American dream and find a job. But it is much more complicated than that. Not that many people have delved deep into the issue by experiencing the culture of poverty for themselves like Philippe Bourgois, David Simon, and Edward Burns have. And they attest that if the solution was as easy as finding the motivation to leave the cycle of poverty, then the problem would have been solved a long time ago.

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