April 25, 2013
East St. Louis Illinois is promoted, by their Mayer in his website address, as a “great place to live, to work, to do business, and to raise a family” (2011:245). This statement seems contradictory to the statistics showing that population has declined by one third since 1950 while unemployment is estimated at over 50% (2011:245). This paper will examine the historical and current neighborhoods, job opportunities, and family structures of East St. Louis by using the theories of Massey and Denton, Cohen, and Stack. It will also examine why poverty continues to increase and provide argument that a major reform in social policy must take place to dismantle this perpetuating cycle. To understand what changes must be made, a brief overview of the history of East St. Louis is necessary.
In the early twentieth century, East St. Louis was an all American city. People from varied backgrounds were flooding towards this industrial hot spot in search of work that was abundant. People were building houses and raising families in the quiet suburbs of St. Louis city. Children were free to play in the well-manicured public spaces. Couples could take evening strolls and listen to the music playing in the nightclubs and plenty of small businesses lined the streets (2011:36). However, with the political interest of this city being geared towards industry, this residential paradise would soon take a turn for the worse. Today, East St. Louis is hardly recognizable to the residents of its past. The once thriving businesses are closed and the buildings are uninhibited. The streets are littered with trash and rubble from the decay of the old structures (2011:39). Vandalism and crime have taken over in most of the public spaces. The current residents of this city are now left to deal with the fallout of this abandoned landmark. This situation can be seen time and time again in cities across the nation. As discussed in Streetwise, the village of Northton went through a similar transformation during World War II (1990:56). The influx of jobs brought desirability to the village and in turn attracted lower income families, the unemployed. When poverty moved into the area, the wealthy and middle class residents moved out.
“The out-migration of middle class families from ghetto areas left behind a destitute community lacking the institutions, resources, and values necessary for success in post-industrial society”(1993:7). This quote is an exact reflection of what took place in East St. Louis in the 1960’s. After the civil rights movement, black families found increasing opportunities for advancement and started a migration towards better neighborhoods. Consequently, white residents started to flee in the late 1960’s (Nunes, 1998). The white industrial workers started noticing the overflow of black families from Brooklyn encroaching on the Northern border of East St. Louis. This migration caused white families to leave their house as well as their job thus providing more resources for black families moving in, white flight. Slowly the white-owned industries lost interest in the area and started phasing out. The middle class blacks followed suit and left only the low income black families within the city. The possibility of escaping this abandoned city is very unlikely without financial resources. Even the middle class families that can successfully make it out of the ghettos are faced with a highly segregated housing market (1993:9). Culture of poverty theorists cite poor work ethics and morals as the downfall of the city and maintained that these traits carry across generations (Hamer 56). However, others cite changes in welfare policy concentrating on removing the poor from welfare rolls and forcing them into low wage labor as “welfare racism” (Hamer 57). Personally I believe we can reform the welfare system to remove the negative effects without abandoning the impoverished. Again,