Poverty, desperation in a world-class city

00_JesseJackson02When a demented killer slayed
49 in a gun rampage in Orlando, there was
national attention. Presidential candidates called for
escalating the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East, even though the killer seems to be a homegrown terrorist.

But in Chicago, 404 have died in gun violence this year. According to the Congressional Research Service, the murder rate averaged 16 per 100,000 a year from 2010-2014. That is nearly four times the national average and nearly three times the Illinois state average.

Not random
These killings are not randomly distributed. African-Americans constitute about one- third of Chicago’s residents, but they account for 80 percent of its murder victims. The killings are concentrated in endangered communities burdened with abject poverty and deplorable living conditions. Desperation and murder are segregated in Chicago.

In West Garfield Park, the average per capita income is $10,951. More than 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, with an unemployment rate greater than 25 percent. In Englewood, the average per capita household income is $11,993. Forty-two percent of households live below the poverty line, with an unemployment rate over 21 percent.

In Fuller Park, per capita household income is $9,016, with 55.5 percent of households living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is 40 percent. Washington Park, North Lawndale, Austin, Greater Grand Crossing, East Garfield Park…the list goes on.

During the height of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate hovered at roughly 20 percent.

These neighborhoods are suffering levels twice that, now six years into the supposed recovery.

‘Disaster zones’
These are disaster zones in a supposedly world-class city. They look like they are under siege, and to some extent they are. Drugs and guns, violence and despair mark lives condemned to live in these zones.

The war in Iraq will end up costing us more than $3 trillion. Wars go on in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, and now the U.S. is beginning to bomb Libya.

But the right now disaster zones in Chicago are ignored. The everyday violence is decried, but nothing is done. The poverty is regretted, but there is no plan to attack it.

In fact, national policy does more to expand the divide between endangered communities and affluent ones. A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Enterprise Development details the growing racial wealth gap in America.

They find that without a drastic change in policy, by 2043, when people of color are projected to account for more than half of the U.S. population, the racial wealth divide between White households and African-American and Latino households will have doubled from about $500,000 in 2013 to more than $1 million.

Historic causes
The gap reflects the impact of historic inequities – from federally sanctioned housing discrimination to private redlining – but its expansion is fueled in part by tax policies that aid the highest earners while providing the lowest income families with virtually nothing.

Over the past 20 years alone, the report finds, the federal government spent more than $8 trillion through tax programs to assist families in building long-term wealth, including saving for retirement, purchasing a home, starting a business or paying for college.

But the impact of these expenditures has been “upside down.”  Typical millionaires pocketing about $145,000 in public tax benefits each year to increase their wealth while working families receive a total of $174 on average.

More of the same won’t help. If nothing changes, the desperate zones will get worse.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

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