Unless you are one of them, more than likely walking down streets pockmarked with trash-strewn empty lots, amid some boarded up and deteriorating houses and apartment buildings or projects is hardly something you would do, even in broad daylight.
The many poor and near-poor left in these mostly dilapidated neighborhoods are who Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post calls the Abandoned in his fascinating book, Disintegration — The splintering of Black America.
The early 1960s black student movement led by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) kicked the civil rights thrust into high gear, resulting in civil rights legislation that began the phasing out of legal segregation. As a result, the African American neighborhood model of white segregation and black economic cohesiveness gave way to a new phenomenon.
Integration provided opportunities for the black middle-class to move out, which created a new model in which those remaining became the Abandoned – segregated so-called “racially” and segregated economically. Black poverty became concentrated and dysfunction festered, then overwhelmed.
Single-parent, female-headed households ballooned into a majority for poor and near-poor families throughout black America. Two out of every five working-age adults have no job and are not looking for one. Rarely can an adult with a college degree be found living among the Abandoned.
“So what happens,” Eugene Robinson writes, “is a kind of distillation that effectively cooks off the middle class and the working class until only the Abandoned remain.” Industry and other economic development indices both left and by-passed central urban zones for suburbia. Therefore, no nearby low-skilled and entry-level jobs exist and transportation issues abound.
Abandoned populations have no network through which they can become informed about possible employment opportunities in the suburbs. Then there is an ever-growing proliferation of young women with children who debunk marriage because the children’s fathers cannot maintain steady, viable employment.
Robinson exclaims that there is a “web of restraints that keeps Abandoned black Americans from escaping into the middle class . . . [and] the web continues to tighten. It begins in the womb.” Robinson cites poor prenatal care, high infant mortality rate and low birth weight which adversely affects cognitive ability, causing many of these children to have problems in school.
Robinson reports that “several chronic, debilitating conditions – asthma, obesity, childhood diabetes” are considerably higher among black Abandoned children than among poor and near-poor white children. “Poor black children are behind even before the race begins,” Robinson writes.
With only one low income gained via a job, public assistance or a combination of the two, poor single mothers’ expectations of upward mobility are severely limited. Stress incurred by circumstances of lifestyle permeates the household, causing physiological damage and psychological impacts as well.
What about real, professional day care for the low-income working single mother of one or more children? Such a thought is not practical because it is not affordable. Any available relative or good neighbor will suffice. Preschoolers are kept clean, fed and otherwise cared for but necessary early development will suffer dramatically.
Robinson reminds us what the science has been saying for years: “children of Abandoned families are at a significant disadvantage, compared to their more affluent peers, when they enter school.” No wonder school dropout rates are up around 50 percent in several inner cities.
There is absolutely nothing within the law for these Abandoned youths to do because they have developed no marketable skill sets. Therefore, statistics state that, as of 2008, some 528,000 blacks were incarcerated in federal and state prisons, out of 1.5 million prisoners.
The plight of the Abandoned is a blight that the rest of us should not allow to endure.
Al Calloway is a long-time journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the 1960s civil rights struggle.