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Cities on the Hill

Oct 15, 2008
Our salvation, if we are to be saved, will rise up from the people, and will not trickle down from above. With a new administration on the horizon—whoever wins—that will retain the old links to their corporate masters, that will mortgage our future to its stubborn tunnel vision of dependence on military might, that will continue to erode constitutional rights in the name of national security, the time has come to begin the restructuring of our political system from the ground up.

It is therefore heartening to discover that lower levels of our governance structures—our state houses and municipal offices—are keenly aware of the problems we face and of their responsibility to take part in their amelioration. The National League of Cities, a lobbying organization representing 19,000 cities, villages, and towns, has published a report, Poverty and Economic Insecurity: Views from City Hall, revealing “that ninety percent of municipal leaders surveyed said that poverty has either increased or stayed the same in their cities over the past decade.”

The famous “War on Poverty” declared in the mid-sixties has been lost, as have our other wars launched since then. With a current poverty rate (12.3 percent) scarcely two points lower than at the “war’s” beginning (14.2 percent), and that based on outmoded calculation parameters which, if modernized, would almost surely indicate higher levels of poverty today, action needs to be taken on all levels to end this national disgrace. Happily, city leaders are taking responsibility:

  • Eight in ten municipal officals (81%) believe taking action to reduce poverty is a responsibility of city government.
  • Three in four city officials (75%) express interest in becoming a municipal leader on poverty.
  • Unhappily, three in four officials think poverty levels in their city will increase (43%) or stay the same (33%) over the next decade.
  • Over 70 percent say the Federal Poverty Threshold (which sets $17,170 as the threshold for a family of three) is higher in their cities, 30 percent saying it is $30,000 or higher.
  • Poverty, say most officials, is concentrated in single-parent families (73%) and confined to certain neighborhoods (65%).
  • When asked what strategies could work to alleviate poverty in their cities, and which of those strategies were their cities in a good position to implement, it is interesting to note the the most popular strategy (91%) was creating better lives for the next generation by improving schools, although only 57 percent felt this strategy was within their city’s capacity.
  • Effective strategies that were within their cities’ capacities were economic development to bring more jobs (89%/89%) and improving neighborhoods by making them safer, enhancing services, and improving infrastructure (86%/88%).
  • “While only three percent say the city has a comprehensive strategic, municipal plan to address poverty, a much larger proportion (28%) says this would be the most effective approach for their city.
Regarding their chances for re-election, only one percent of elected officials felt reducing poverty was the most important factor, while 68 percent felt that bringing about economic development was. To us, they are inextricably linked, together with a determination to see an end to the myriad social inequities that have stalled the war on poverty from its very inception.
tags: Poverty | Politics

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