The Poverty Problem
As I see it after years of living and working in Savannah there are three basic problems in Savannah that help sustain poverty. The first is a lack of liberal or radical clergy and churches. This is where the voices of the powerless can be given a voice to the powerful. Savannah has no church that is committed to the issue of eliminating poverty. There are churches who are helping those in poverty but none who are looking at structures. Where is leadership on an increased minimum wage? Making sure public transportation is accessible and goes where it needs to go? Challenges to nonprofits and government programs that are not reducing poverty that are left to continue.
Not only does a lack of voice from a liberal religious community hurt in giving a voice to the powerless it also lets the thinking and philosophy around the poor become a moral issue and not an insufficient funds issue for the basic needs in life. The poor need to learn to budget, make right relationship choices, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and so forth. While these may all be issues that help if you did all of these right you would find at the end you still live in poverty unless you have more money come into your pocket.
When you believe it is a money issue and not a moral issue, the minimum wage increase becomes important, economies that provide living wage employment is essential, training for skills that promise higher wages is provided. A safety net that prevents a spiraling down from low\middle income status to poverty is created, affordable housing and medical care is a necessity, and transportation to jobs are important, employment of those with criminal records is promoted. The only morality to the situation is whether a city with our resources will provide the necessary tools to conquer poverty. Yet without a constant vigilance of a religious group or other organizations outside the system that are offering challenges to the system poverty will thrive.
The second issue is classism among blacks (This is not to equate poverty as a black issue but a disproportionate group of blacks live in poverty. Of course whites continue to hold the majority of the welfare program rolls). There is not a black middle class concern about poverty. And a gap in understanding of educated blacks of poverty ridden blacks causes persons to develop the wrong philosophy and contribute to the judgment and misdiagnosis of what the poor need. Being a black member of society does not automatically give you understanding of what someone raised in poverty experiences. Blacks in this community are not always at the forefront of the issues of poverty.
Take HIV\AIDS and homosexuality were not addressed by the black community as a whole. This was so although HIV\AIDS hit the black community disproportionally. In the nineties this was a significant part of addressing poverty as people who once held jobs could no longer do this. Yet the black community responded with a symphony of crickets. Even today with all the advances in care the black community is seldom acting to prevent this disease.
Also cultural issues take the priority of the middle class. This is their interest and they justify it by saying if we show people to be black and proud this will help them out of poverty. This may help but once again they can be black and proud and still not affect their pocket books. Schools that give good education making you more employable are more important. Savannah State University struggles in part because of alumni bickering. The black middle class continues to bicker over monuments, cultural centers etc., and never seemingly over issues of poverty.
The black community lost political power in the last elections because of their making poor choices in city manager and police chief. Instead of finding the best black candidates they used a black cronyism and instated people who were corrupt and not up to their jobs. This resulted in projects that could have benefitted the black community to not come into fruition, violence in the streets, and gangs growing in black communities.
What is amazing is that the black history of success and influence rivals any other city in the United States. Carver State Bank, first church built by Slaves, integration before the civil rights law enacted, black schools in slavery days, Savannah State University oldest public historically black university in Georgia, and the list is one of amazing resourcefulness in the face of unrelenting adversity.
Third the ongoing white power structure. Of course this is still the issue. The white power structure has been in place for over two centuries. It has hidden levers and advantages that the white community is not any longer aware exist yet still they work to enhance the white community. When former Mayor Otis Johnson discovers that the city’s legal matters are farmed out to white only law firms there is a problem. When contractors the city uses are disproportionately white there is a problem. When public schools in predominately black communities suffer compared to white communities there is a problem. When so many black males are imprisoned there is a problem. And the list could go on.
Although this is not a complete list I think it is probably the main part of why poverty continues to flourish in a city and county whose wealth continues to grow.