Poverty is one of the major challenges that countries across the world continue to battle. In every nation, governments and their policies have tried to eliminate poverty, some making declarations, and targets of when they would wish to eliminate poverty. Poverty, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, is of great concern, given its effect on children’s education and later adult earnings. Research shows that living in a poor neighborhood is a major source of disadvantage for residents. Children are among the most affected by poor health and reduced academic attainment, which hare major features of poverty. While children make up 26 % of the total US population, they account for 40% of the poverty population (Brady-Smith, Fauth, & Brooks-Gunn, 2019). On the other hand, adults have poor health, curtailed happiness, and reduced earnings. It is for these reasons that governments continually put measures in place to reduce poverty in low-income neighborhoods. Given the debilitating effects of poverty in low-income neighborhoods for both educational attainment and later adult earnings, it is important to provide employment as a solution lest the poverty levels reach catastrophic levels.
Poverty is a reality that residents of poor neighborhoods have to deal with in their daily lives. Essentially, poverty lowers the quality of life for the residents because it causes poor nutrition, health, education attainment, and future adult earnings. The problem is worse for children, whose future depends on access to good education, which remains inaccessible to them. Given the extreme effects of poverty on the residents of poor neighborhoods, it is important to ask what then causes poverty in these neighborhoods? According to Teitz and Chapple (1998), one of the most important causes of poverty is “profound structural economic shifts that have eroded the competitive position of the central cities in the industrial sectors that historically provided employment for the working poor, especially minorities. Thus, demand for their labor has declined disastrously” (p. 36). The bulk of poor neighborhoods are located in inner cities, where a majority of the residents are minority groups, including Blacks and Hispanics. The economic shift and its continuous shift from an industrial to service continue to disadvantage these inner-city residents by not providing them with a source of livelihood (Brady-Smith, Fauth, & Brooks-Gunn, 2019). Moreover, with little to no academic credentials, the residents find it even more difficult to find jobs in the current information-driven economy.
Race and gender also play a huge role as a cause of poverty in poor neighborhoods. Teitz and Chapple (1998) argue that poverty in the poor neighborhoods is a result of persistent “racial and gender discrimination in employment, which prevents the population from achieving its full potential in the labor market” (P.36). Discrimination by race and gender, in this case, causes inequality by denying members of a particular gender (mostly women) and race (often the minorities) access to resources and opportunities to enable them to come out poverty. Indeed, residents from poor neighborhoods have little to no access to well-paying jobs, poor academic infrastructure, and sometimes are outright neglect by authorities as the governments fail to deal with crime and drug problems in such neighborhoods.
Culture, particularly of the poor, is another cause of poverty. The argument here is that the poor traditionally have their own set of values and behavior, which often provides an agglutination property. These values prevent the poor from leaving their impoverished state to better life. According to Teitz and Chapple (1998) the set of values debate is not a new one as, “Urban reformers in the 19th century, as they struggled to improve conditions in industrializing cities, often saw the poor, and especially immigrants, as needing the transformation of their values as much as improvement in their grim material conditions” (p. 45). These sets of values, therefore, play a significant role in perpetuating poverty, particularly among the minorities and immigrants, who form the bulk of the poor.
Functionalism explains the causes of poverty in these neighborhoods. Building on Weber’s ideas, functionalists argue that occupation, ethnic status, education, income, and religion are among the major causes of inequality in modern society (Townsend, 1979). They argue that poverty, especially in poor neighborhoods, is a result of a combination of factors, including racial status, education, income, and occupation. The minority status herein, contributes to poverty in the sense that many job opportunities and education placements among minorities are often set to fill a quota and perpetuate the “diversity” of an organization or institution. Often, organizations hire people from the minority groups only as means to an end, for instance to sell a particular product with the minority as a target market. By seeming to care about the minority group by employing a member of the group, such organizations get the legitimacy of targeting the minority market. They play into the functionalist notion that every member of the society has a function. For the minorities strategically embedded within the organization, their function is to be product and organization ambassadors selling the product to the target market.
There are several solutions to the problem of poverty in poor neighborhoods: investing in education, expanding and improving the economy, providing Medicaid, raising the minimum wage among others. However, the creation of jobs remains the most effective way of alleviating poverty in the neighborhoods. Good quality jobs, which pay well, can go a long way in improving the lives of the residents of poor neighborhoods. Providing job opportunities for residents of poor neighborhoods provides them with pathways to experience what the world outside offers. Quillian (2017) argues, “Low-income families are trapped in poorer neighborhoods first by financial constraints, but also by other factors including lack of knowledge of alternatives and a desire to reside near other family members” (p. 23). Having an income helps in not only sourcing for better opportunities and environments but also improving the very poor neighborhood.
Providing jobs can involve local governments and people through concerted efforts. Investing in job-creating programs is one such step that involves local authorities rebuilding infrastructure. Local councilmen and councilwomen, as well as the mayor, can pass laws and policies that invest in local personnel. For example, they can grant local contractors bids for infrastructural improvements that have clauses that require them to hire local labor. Renovating abandoned housing and development of renewable energy sources can also go a long way as projects targeting job creation, particularly in poor neighborhoods. Most important would be revitalizing the neighborhoods using local labor, which provides a two-prong strategy of not only improving the neighborhood but also providing jobs at the same time.
The cost of the initiatives, particularly in rebuilding the infrastructure, is particularly high. Nationally, recent estimates put the cost of rebuilding the entire national infrastructure at $4.6 trillion (Frank, 2017). While the cost is the liberal estimate of the association of civil engineers, conservative government agencies argue that rebuilding infrastructure should cost half the amount. The work involved in rebuilding the infrastructure, including roads, airports, dams, water, and housing, would provide millions of jobs, especially for people in poor neighborhoods (Quillian, 2017). Such an action will give them a chance to earn a living and improve their lives. Yet it is not the neighborhoods alone that will benefit from such forms of job creation. According to Zandi (2012), every $1 in benefits and earnings among the jobless creates more than $1.5 in economic activity. With the government reporting 5.8 million Americans as unemployed as of 2019 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019), creating jobs will be of great benefit to the economy. Employment creation, therefore, while costly, brings benefits to both the economy and the poor neighborhoods, as it allows residents to improve their quality of life.
Residents in poor neighborhoods face a life of dejection and desperation, thanks to the debilitating poverty levels. Providing gainful employment presents a solution to all the troubles that these individuals face. Local council personnel and state lawmakers are in an excellent position to legislate and implement policies that aim towards providing employment. Proposals on ways of using legislation can go a long way in convincing the legislators to implement job-creating initiatives. Noteworthy is the fact that poverty remains one of the biggest challenges to governments across the world. Additionally, poor neighborhoods have adverse effects on educational attainment, happiness, and potential adulthood earnings. Finally, it is possible to lower poverty levels with proper mechanisms and investment, which aim at providing jobs to the poor and in so doing, stopping the intergenerational transmission of neighborhood and poverty.
Brady-Smith, C., Fauth, R., C., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2019). Poverty and education. Retrieved from https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2330/Poverty-Education.html
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). The unemployment situation—November 2019.Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
Frank, T. (2017). Civil engineers say fixing infrastructure will take $4.6 trillion. CNN Money. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2017/03/09/news/infrastructure-report-card/index.html.
Quillian, L (2017). Poverty, neighborhood, and school setting. Focus, 33(2), 22-24
Teitz, M., B. & Chapple, K. (1998). The cause of inner-city poverty: eight hypotheses in search of reality. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, 3(3), 33-70.
Townsend, P. (1979). Poverty in the United Kingdom. London: Allen Lane and Penguin Books
Zandi, M (2012). Bolstering the Economy: Helping American Families by Reauthorizing the Payroll Tax Cut and UI Benefits. Written Testimony of Mark Zandi Chief Economist and Co-Founder, Moody’s Analytics Before the Joint Economic Committee. Retrieved from https://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/documents/2012-02-07-JEC-Payroll-Tax.pdf.