Philadelphia’s Poverty Problem

This is the problem we never talk about

THAT EARLY EVENING in September, when I reach the street deep in West Philly where Charise, the sophomore at Swarthmore, lives, I walk up her block kicking through bottles and discarded paper like they’re autumn leaves. A few doors from Charise’s house, a guy maybe 30, heavy-lidded, nodding, half conscious, sits with a woman who murmurs to him in a voice cut deep with cigarettes or booze or both. Across the street, a house is boarded up.

It’s like a deadly and horrendous game of chicken that all of us are playing. One side is pitted against the other. Do we  —  outsiders, the middle class, white people  —  take on the challenge of our inner cities, especially the plight of children there? Or is it their problem, removed from our consciousness by half a century of abuse and neglect and outright betrayal of their own children?

These are horrible questions, though not because they risk insensitivity or worse. They’re horrible because we know who loses.

And as the problems roll on, as we’re now almost three generations into inner-city families falling apart, pediatrician Don Schwarz’s observation only becomes a deeper historical truth: More and more of our poor people can’t even conceive of better lives.

So we find ourselves perpetually starting over, trying to come up with solutions. It seems clear to me that two things have to happen. Black leaders, both here and nationally, need to push poor parents to take more responsibility for their own betterment. At the same time, if children growing up in horrible circumstances simply deserve better  —  anybody going to argue with that?  —  the rest of us have a challenge, too. It’s not so much in picking a new social program to try or in anointing a school czar or in anything specific  —  it’s more a shift in mind-set: We need to believe the inner city is our problem, too. We can no longer turn away.

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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.