Only one of Obama’s Promise Zones is majority-Black
By Freddie Allen
WASHINGTON — Despite the disproportionate impact of poverty found in African American communities, only one of President Barack Obama’s “Promise Zones,” is majority-Black, according to a new report.
The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research and educational institute, offered recommendations on the role the federal government should play in breaking barriers to social and economic mobility.
Earlier this year, President Obama launched his Promise Zones initiative, a program that will fast track federal aid to some of the nation’s poorest communities.
During his speech on Promise Zones in January, President Obama said, “A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.”
The Center for American Progress report highlighted the implicit and explicit role the federal government played in stifling the scope of those dreams for thousands of Black families.
“These practices included redlining, beginning in the 1930s — when the federal government allowed the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation and banks to exclude African American communities from receiving home loans,” stated the report. “Following World War II, in many metropolitan regions, highways were rammed through many low-income, mostly African American communities, displacing thousands of residents and small businesses and ripping apart the fabric of these long established neighborhoods.”
Nearly 38 percent of Black children live in poverty, compared to about 12 percent of white children who are considered poor. A report by the Children’s Defense Fund said 23 percent of Black children under the age of five live in extreme poverty.
“A growing body of research shows being raised in such high-poverty communities undermines the long-term life chances of children,” stated the CAP report. “For example, poverty has been shown to genetically age children, and living in communities exposed to violence impairs cognitive ability.”
The report said this increases the likelihood children will have poor health and educational outcomes and few employment opportunities in the future.
Even Blacks who are considered middle class, based on their income, often live in poor neighborhoods.
The CAP report cited research by Patrick Sharkey, an associate professor of sociology at New York University that found “the average African American family making $100,000 a year lives in a more disadvantaged neighborhood than the average white family making $30,000 a year, revealing how past social policies continue to affect neighborhood choice.”
The report continued: “Sharkey explains the same, mostly African American families have lived in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods over long periods of time and over multiple generations, limiting access to better opportunities. ‘Neighborhood poverty experienced a generation ago doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t become inconsequential. It lingers on to affect the next generation.’”
San Antonio, Texas, Philadelphia, Pa., Los Angeles, Calif., Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma were selected as Promise Zones in the first round of the process. The CAP report said the administration plans to designate a total of 20 Promise Zones by 2016.
Philadelphia, which is about 43 percent Black and nearly 37 percent white, is the only majority-Black Promise Zone selected in the first round.
“In Philadelphia, nearly four out of every 10 kids live below the poverty line, with many living in the city’s struggling West Philadelphia area. In the area’s Mantua neighborhood specifically, only around 40 percent of adults have a high school diploma, and there are high youth crime rates,” stated report.
Some would argue the need for increased federal aid is just as great in the other four Promise Zones.
“San Antonio’s Eastside neighborhood is a predominately Latino and African American community, where nearly 4 in 10 adults do not have high school diplomas and the violent-crime rate is 50 percent higher than the rest of the city,” according to the report.
Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, an economic development firm created during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, reported the poverty rate in majority white Southeastern Kentucky is around 30 percent.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma also suffers poverty rates much higher than the national average.
“Although the poverty rate for those living in the Choctaw Nation is nearly 23 percent, some communities within the zone are far higher. Nine of the census tracts designated as part of the Choctaw zone have poverty rates exceeding 30 percent, with one as high as 52.8 percent,” report said.
The report offered a number of recommendations to accelerate the efforts of President Obama’s Promise Zones initiative, including cutting taxes for businesses that invest in the zones, awarding planning grants to help designees build capacity for current programs, and encouraging community and regional partnerships with anchor institutions like colleges and universities.
The report also suggested using current social mobility research that looks at family structure, segregation, and social capital to help design goals targeted specifically to the needs of the communities where the plans will be implemented.
“The goal of the initiative is not only to transform the selected zones, but also to change how the federal government works with local communities,” the report said. “By utilizing place-based strategies that leverage the federal government’s continued investment in keeping families out of poverty, we can ensure our country lives up to its promise of being the land of opportunity.”