The Washington Post published a deep look into the plight of the poor and jobless in the southern United States. Much of the story focuses on south Atlanta, and the challenges one woman, a single mother with a young child, has with finding a job. The story opens with the woman trying to get from a homeless shelter in Forest Park to a company in the Fulton Industrial District; a journey of less than half an hour by car, but almost two hours by bus and train.
Aboard the bus, Scott zigzagged through Clayton County, an area that runs south from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and has transformed over 25 years from majority white to majority black, its poverty rate rising during that span from 9 percent to 24 percent. A generation of poor people resettled here after Atlanta shuttered inner-city housing projects, and now title loan and pawn shops were the lone life in sleepy strip malls; traffic backed up for an hour to wait in line at a weekly food pantry; and at a blood plasma center where people could get up to $50 for donations, lines formed many mornings around the building before the 7:30 a.m. opening.
The long commute is illustrative of one of the main themes of the article: a lack of decent mass transit options for the poor makes it very difficult for those without a car to get around to find work, let alone make a daily commute. The other focus is on how, beginning with welfare reform instituted back when Bill Clinton was president and Newt Gingrich was speaker of the house disrupted the safety net systems southern poor relied on, including housing projects and cash welfare.
Over the past 20 years, Atlanta’s wealthiest areas, spread along the north of the city, have changed little. But formerly middle-class suburbs to the south — areas of modest single-family homes — have been deluged by newcomers who lost homes as city officials dismantled dozens of housing projects in the hopes of reducing concentrated poverty. Experts who have studied Atlanta’s economic geography say the change has been partly successful; class no longer changes so clearly between neighborhoods, but meanwhile, the poor — given modest vouchers to help subsidize their housing costs — must head far from the city to find places they can afford.
“This city hasn’t built out its society,” said Deborah Scott, the executive director of an area nonprofit organization, Georgia Stand-Up, that focuses on low-income communities. “We’ve given the suburbs to the poorer people, but the opportunities aren’t here.”
There’s a lot more to the article than what can be excerpted in a blog post. Read the whole thing.