WalletHub: 2019's Neediest Cities
Author: Adam McCann
Posted: December 13, 2019

To read the original, visit WalletHub.

Gerry Sussman
Professor, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University

How has the composition of people in need (age, race, gender, etc.) changed in recent decades? 

The baby boomer generation has come of retirement age, and for a large section of this population, social security does not provide enough income for them to retire with even a modest degree of comfort. This is especially true of people of color, most of whom did not accumulate adequate SS income. Women, more than men, suffer the inequities of the system.

What are the main challenges facing low-income families today?

The list is endless. Not enough income to face the exigencies of life, including the extremely high cost of education, health care, housing, and daycare, decent-paying employment, etc. The US economic system is very cruel toward this large section of the population.

What policy interventions have proven successful in helping families achieve economic independence? What policies have failed?

The systems the US should be emulating are those found in Western Europe, where taxes are high but they are put in services that people need (i.e., not wasted on military projects that bring more, not less, security): free education, free health care, support for maternity and paternity leaves, decent fully-paid 4-6 week vacation time and numerous paid holiday breaks, shorter work weeks (France in particular), decent wages, very little homelessness (except in neoliberal UK), etc.

How can charities and nonprofits most effectively serve the poor?

It is shameless for a country as rich as the US to avoid using the government to distribute social protections for the population. This is not the role for charities, which reinforce the idea that poverty is self-inflicted and that only through religious and other well-intentioned charities can they survive. The people have a social contract with the government, pay taxes, serve in the armed forces, contribute to society in many ways, and should not be treated as a burden on society, just because the benefits are so narrowly conceived and distributed to the relatively few. The corporate state has brought people nothing but injustice and disaster (military and environmental). 

How are the neediest cities being a help or hurt by the Trump administration agenda?

The Trump administration has added more harm to cities but should not be singled out, since urban gentrification and marginalization, and neglect of infrastructure (roads & bridges, schooling, safety, etc.) has been going on for decades. One of the reasons why Trump was elected was that the Democratic Party badly neglected one of its major constituencies, the working class of the now rustbelt Midwest. Obama heaped insult on Flint when he tried to convince the citizens of that city that there was no pollution in their drinking water. Hillary Clinton referred to working people, who backed Trump's ideas (false ones) about bringing back manufacturing jobs to the industrial heartland, as "a basket of deplorables." Cory Booker built impressive high rise buildings in downtown Newark but failed to improve access of lower-income people to housing or change the city's extremely high crime rate. America's cities today are focused on a strategy of attracting technology-intensive industry and highly mobile and affluent residents at the expense of middle- and lower-income residents.

How do the economic mobility prospects of low-income Americans compare to their counterparts in other rich democracies?

In general, European and Japanese cities provide greater social protections to residents, including foreign workers, than their US counterparts, although even in those cities the inequities of neoliberal economic programs are being felt — but it is clear that Europeans workers are not as passive as Americans in taking their issues to the streets — the real "mass media".