Philadelphia’s Poverty Problem

This is the problem we never talk about

More than a third of the city’s kids don’t graduate from high school  —  and that percentage gets even worse in neighborhoods like this one. Sixty percent of the city’s children are born out of wedlock. A third grow up in poverty. Philadelphia, recent stats say, is America’s poorest big city.

Which hurts all of us. Consider the problems just on a practical level: It’s tough to attract new business to the city when so much of it is dangerous, when we lack an educated workforce. We lose out on tax revenue. We end up spending more  —  billions more  —  on prisons and services trying to resurrect our poorest people than we would in tackling some of their problems head-on.

But something else came through in every story I heard, a prominent cause of all that failure in our inner city. It’s a problem that makes the lives of children, especially, so much more difficult: Inner-city families are often a mess of neglect and bad behavior and worse. It’s one of the reasons people like me start pretending certain parts of the city don’t even exist.

“POPPA WAS A ROLLING STONE.”

Tanisha laughs as she says that  —  not that she thinks it’s so funny, really, but it’s the truth. She says it several times. “Poppa was a rolling stone.” She giggles. Her father has had 10 children with five different women.

Tanisha didn’t fall far from the tree. She says her problem was “fornication.” She got pregnant at 17. She had one son, Evans, with a drug dealer, and another with, well, she wasn’t sure, at first. But now she’s convinced her second son’s father is a Jamaican drug dealer who was deported. He doesn’t know he has a son.

But Tanisha, 31 now, straightened her life out via a renewed faith in God. She quit sex cold turkey for a year and a half. With her husband Anthony, who drives an armored truck, she rents a rowhome in West Philly and home-schools the two boys. Meanwhile, Evans’s father is still a drug dealer, and Evans spends time with him for the obvious reason: He’s his father. Tanisha hopes she can steer Evans clear of that world. The odds are not in their favor.

Charise, the Swarthmore sophomore, overcame those odds. She’s a slightly husky 19-year-old with spritzes of braided hair and an immediate gap-toothed laugh. Her father was in prison much of her childhood. He had drug problems and never helped support her. Her mother would beat her over homework; a teacher once asked about the marks on her neck  —  her mother had thrown a book at her. But doing her homework kept her mother off her back, and Charise discovered she was good at school. Her mother worked on and off; she had two more children with another man, and spent a lot of time holed up in the bathroom smoking pot. Charise won an award as the top student in her middle school, and got into Bodine, a magnet high school in Northern Liberties. During her junior year, her father reappeared; she began to get close to him, then he disappeared again. Charise got depressed and thought about killing herself. Bodine helped her get counseling, and she kept working hard. Her father reappeared a year later and didn’t tell her where he’d gone or why. Charise graduated from Bodine as salutatorian. Her father is back in prison. She’s not sure where, though he writes her letters. Charise doesn’t answer them.

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  • Jack

    To often do large metropolitan areas throw most of their resources towards convincing the world they are an attractive place to live and work. In the meantime, there are so many living harsh lives wit

  • Rita

    You seem to feel you are qualified to state what Black leaders should be doing, and then add a “maybe it’s our problem” simply as a rhetorical strength to your writing. You’re right. Our children are everyone’s problem, but instead of pointing your finger at what Black leaders should do, how about owning what whites have done to make our inner cities what they are? once you own what whites have done, and continue to do, then you may be honest about the work that YOU can do, to help this process unfold, like get involved in a Whites working against racism group (WIARS, UHURU) or starting your own. Then, you can make alliances with those Black leaders and find out what they are already doing, but that mainstream media doesn’t acknowledge, except in passing (as you yourself do) If you sit and analyze your own privilege, you may discover that going for a walk and collecting a couple of stories in a poor neighborhood does not make you and expert compared to Blacks or whites who live in that neighborhood everyday. You may decide to write an article, where you ask Black leaders what they think about the inner…

  • Rita

    city, interview people from the organizations that are making a difference, or make alliances with them. You may choose to share some of the power that you are writing from.
    You pointed your finger at Black leaders. As a white antiracist activist, I point my finger at you. What will YOU do about it?

  • Donna

    I think part of the problem is articles like this one, titled Philadelphia’s Poverty Problem and somehow only mentions the predominately African American neighborhoods as the problem, this is a largely populated African American city and I’m not naïve to the fact that there are statistics that points fingers at “us” so to speak. But “we” don’t own the rights to single parenthood, promiscuity, drug addiction, crime etc. But when “we” get into our minds that these are our issues, this is what we do because we are black, than the cycle continues on and yes only a few will go against the grain. So it is very important to paint the entire picture, if this was an article about issues specific to AA neighborhoods I could understand that but Philly’s poverty problem, that needs to expand a bit further I’m much more concerned when visiting my bro in his Northeast neighborhood due to his drug addicted neighbor who happens to be white than I am my own where these things exist but on no grander a scale than my white counterparts.

    Also, and because I only read Phila mag on occasion I don’t know if this has been done in…

  • Lando

    This has to be one of the most offensive things I have ever read, and the subtle language used by the author reveals both his own prejudice, feelings of himself as some sort of savior, and conceptual separation from those of us in the “inner city” As long as you continue these “poverty” field trips and point the finger from on high with this “us” vs. “them” mentality, nothing will change.

  • mike

    Two words could put an end to the problem: stop welfare. Decades of rewarding single females who have babies with free housing, free food, free medical care, etc. When you stop the gravy train, you

  • Niki

    Blaming Black people for poverty? That’s a hell of a stretch! Do you seriously think you can answer the poverty problem in Philly by walking around Black neighborhoods for a day? Maybe if Philly mag actually paid attention to minority neighborhoods they would discover the wonderful people living here instead of buying into the stereotype first and fitting an article into it later.

  • Joe

    Why should the author DO anything about it? Why should I? Besides shooting you degenerates when you break into out homes, we should have as little contact with each other as possible.

    We aren’t having 10 kids with 5 different dads. We aren’t eating crack, heroin, and pot on a daily basis. We don’t spend out time on the porches and corners guzzling 40′s….
    …..

    ….and the few of that do? Well…they don’t blame it on the blacks.

    Be accountable for your own actions, first, and maybe then whites will hold out an olive branch

  • walter

    Your article is very interesting. You make some valid points regarding poverty and cycles of poverty. Unfortunately, you paint a picture of these areas as places which solely contain individuals who are stuck in generational poverty and perdition but no one who has a history of generational honor, morality and goals. I am black and very familiar with the west Philadelphia areas you speak of. I know families from these areas who generation after generation have put out productive law abiding citizens. You see Mr. Huber, these neighborhoods are more than just the 2 dimensional morality free slums you paint them to be. But thanks for the sensational read. And I would implore you to take Rita’s advice.

  • Jay

    The author doesn’t go far enough. This intractable poverty isn’t white people’s fault and hasn’t been for a long time. It ain’t white people telling Black men to abandon their children. It ain’t white people telling them it’s cool to be in jail. It ain’t white people who say a man who gets a job, takes responsibility for himself, and takes care of his kids is a p*ssy and a f*gg*t. The Black community is like a barrel of crabs. Anytime a Black man tries to do something with his life he’s dragged back down by the others. I’m a C/O in the prison system and I see it all the time.

  • Jay

    The author doesn’t go far enough. This intractable poverty isn’t white people’s fault and hasn’t been for a long time. It ain’t white people telling Black men to abandon their children. It ain’t white people telling them it’s cool to be in jail. It ain’t white people who say a man who gets a job, takes responsibility for himself, and takes care of his kids is a p*ssy and a f*gg*t. The Black community is like a barrel of crabs. Anytime a Black man tries to do something with his life he’s dragged back down by the others. I’m a C/O in the prison system and I see it all the time.

  • Mooreae

    Has Anyone Visited Kensington To Find Out Why The White People There Are Poor? Stop Pretending Black People Are The Downfall Of An Already Corrupt City.