Sociologist Stephen Klineberg is emphatic the great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide, but a class one.
I remember being the poor kid in my neighborhood. We rented our house, we moved three times in six years and most of my designer clothes came from Goodwill or were hand-me-downs from the daughters of my mom’s co-workers. Through time and prayer I began to understand, even appreciate the inherent privilege of being the poor kid on the posh side of town. At least I was there, right?
Yet, a study released Aug. 1 by the Pew Research Center observes how over the past 30 years, mixed income communities, similar to the one I grew up in, are dwindling. The latest trend shows a rise of residential segregation by income. Yes, segregation. Normally attributed to race, which is visible, income segregation is largely unseen, except in the erosion of mixed income communities. Census data in addition to that of the Pew Researchers, confirm as the middle class shrinks, citizens are opting to live in communities that not only reflect their economic status, but their political views as well. Plainly put, middle-income neighborhoods no longer exhibit income diversity. Low-income folks live in one part of town and the well heeled live in a landscaped and likely gated community 40 miles outside of town.
Talking to Jacki Lyden during the Aug. 13 edition of NPR’s "Tell Me More." Klineberg shared having only professionals in your circle of friends leads to isolation of the poor. But is this really true? And if so what is the impact on black Americans, who continue to show income growth, but disproportionately make up a larger portion of lower income families? According to Klineberg, Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, isolation of the poor leads to two major issues. One, greater barriers arise making it harder for the poor to work their way out of poverty. Meanwhile it also isolates the rich, where they have no concept of the poor.
To Klineberg’s observations, I’d add an additional ramification, a cultural degradation of the community as well as, the individual. Income segregation creates neighborhoods lacking richness in values, views and ideas. It eliminates the plethora of social advantages of communities made up of all kinds. Wealthy individuals are most certainly aware of the poor, but removed from those who have actually experienced poverty or knowing someone who has, the concept of poor never takes root at the empirical level.
Klineberg further contends the only way to improve the lot of the poor is to invest in education.
Through my own experience I came to realize the best schools are usually found in better, read: more moneyed communities. This is especially true in Georgia where property taxes serve as a primary funding source for education. More expensive homes lead to better funded schools, meaning the students whose families can afford to live in nicer neighborhoods, by default receive access to a premium education. It’s a fact, the more educated you are the more likely you are to vote and be an informed voter at that. Transforming poor communities of all colors starts with access to education and the ballot box. If residential segregation is on the rise, what responsibility do American politicians have to ensuring every American regardless of income bracket is armed with the tools they need to actually become middle class?
Black Americans are not the exclusive victims of income segregation; the study also notes racial segregation has decreased as income segregation has gone up. Still, with 14% unemployment, almost double the national average; blacks do stand to be relegated to lower income housing and by default schools devoid of resources required to educate youth to be successful in the modern market place.
Today, a person’s chances of moving into the middle class from the lower are greater in Europe than America. A rather dismal perversion of the American brand, don’t you think? This by far was one of the most shocking takeaways from Klineberg’s interview with Lynder. Do our political leaders have a responsibility to ensure America remains the land of opportunity for all demographics of its citizens?
Every elected official, including our president, has an unabated responsibility to confront segregation in all its forms, whether economic, education or race-based. Part of the problem with both presidential candidates, including the incumbent, is the complete absence of low-income Americans from the national conversation. As questions continue to arise during this election cycle asking if the black vote matters, it must if we are to take responsibility for our own economic success. The climate is moving against blacks when those in the middle are being forced into wealth or poverty with diminished opportunities to rise out of the latter.
It was the intentions of our nation’s framers that every American be able to lay claim certain inalienable Rights. Rights that go beyond ethnicity, religion, sex and must now include class.
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