09 June 2009

Sugar Ditch Brought to the City

Last week in this space, I raised a question concerning rising child poverty rates in Memphis: How could it be that in just the last decade, the child poverty rate for children under age five in the City of Memphis has increased by more than 40%? Is it possible that the rise in child poverty rates is a reflection of White and middle-class flight from the city of Memphis, leaving behind a cohort of increasingly poor and minority families?

Our Colleague John Gnuschke, Director of the Sparks Bureau for Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis sent a thoughtful reply concerning the shifting demographics of poverty in the city:

"It is true that white and higher income families of all races with children are fleeing the city and leaving behind older upper income professionals and poor families with children who cannot afford to access the quality housing and school systems in newer suburbs. This has been promoted by transportation opportunities, school construction patterns, housing development patterns and taxing patterns.

Private schools are more affordable for those in high income areas of the city if they can keep taxes low. If taxes are too high and the cost of private schools is too high, middle class and affluent families are much better off to flee and seek both lower taxes and better public schools. New housing is also an attraction for newly minted middle class families of all races. Employers and employment opportunities flow to those areas of recent growth. I am not sure what this says except that the flight to safety and security has many stages and one of them is to move to the city and the second is to move to the suburbs. This has always been a pattern for Delta families seeking employment and income opportunities.

This issue is a nexus of economic and demographic growth patterns that blend the social, political and economic factors together in a cement mixer.

The only ones really harmed by the movement are the families that are left behind with few opportunities to overcome their position in life. The decaying infrastructure is more than just poor schools and abandoned factories, it is the destruction of the American adventure based on hope for a brighter future.

Children with little or no hope of a promising future are an image that few people can envision. It is the image of Sugar Ditch brought to the city. Can it really be this bad or are we just outsiders looking in the window from a elitist point of view?"

We welcome your comments and questions.

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