Inequality Matters: The distance between work and workers

450px-MATA_on_demand_bus_stop_Park_Ave_Memphis_TN_01When you apply the lens of economic equality to the headlines, the view changes from good news to not so much.

The Daily News reports that Williams-Sonoma Inc. is adding 900 jobs in an expansion of its distribution center in northwest Mississippi.

Bad news: In the Memphis MSA, the people who most need jobs don’t live in Northwest Mississippi. Worse news: These are gigs at a distribution center, which suggests that almost all of the jobs will be low-skilled and low-wage.

Worst news: Public transportation in the area sucks. So even if an unemployed man or woman had a car (and gas money) to get from North Memphis (where in some census tracts, the unemployment rate hovers around 30 percent) to Olive Branch, they’re unlikely to earn a living wage. BTW, the unemployment rate in Olive Branch is 5.7 percent. In Memphis, it’s 9.7 percent.

Research has confirmed what you intuitively know is true: Transportation is one of the key barriers to economic stability for many low-wage workers. If you can’t easily get to a job – either because you don’t have a car or public transportation is horribly inefficient, then you won’t be able to keep that job long.

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When the black and brown kids are poor

Dilapidated House in South Memphis

Dilapidated House in South Memphis

My inaugural column in The Memphis Flyer on the topic I’m most passionate about: Economic justice.

The figures are in from the 2013 ACS survey: Memphis retains its status as poorest large metro area in the nation.

From the column:

The overall poverty rate in the Memphis metro area — which stretches to the nearest parts of Arkansas and Mississippi — is 19.8 percent. The disgrace is in the details: The poverty rate is 29.2 percent for blacks, 38.3 percent for Hispanics, and 8.4 percent for whites. A staggering 52.4 percent of Hispanic children and 43.2 percent of black children live in poverty, compared to 9.8 percent of white kids.

The good news, I suppose, is that 70 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanics aren’t poor

But there’s no way that the MSA’s story ends well when so many children are trapped in poverty. Neither charter schools or ASDs are equipped or designed to eradicate the family’s poverty.

I pulled these figures from the 2014 poverty fact sheet compiled by Dr. Maria Delavega at the University of Memphis. In a section titled “Memphis Has the Highest Poverty Rates, But Not for Everyone,” she wrote:

It was observed that the poverty rate among non-Hispanic Whites only is much lower in Memphis and Shelby County than in the state or the nation as a whole. This relationship is not expected, given how high poverty rates are in Memphis for other racial groups. In 2013, that relationship held, with particularly cruel consequences for Latinos.

I asked Delavega what she meant by “this relationship is not expected.”  She replied:  “I didn’t want to be ruder than that. I wanted to say this is shocking, horrible and shouldn’t happen…. The poverty rate should move in the same direction, which it’s not. So there is something happening in the local economy that’s privileging white people and hurting black people.”

She didn’t want to use the R-word – and neither do I, given as how it tends to turn the recipients of unearned advantages off. But… Yeah.

Given the yawning disparity between whites and blacks, is it possible that white people are just getting the economic thing right? I asked. (Had to play devil’s advocate.)

“If the poverty affects behavior, then the poverty rate should affect everybody by race. If in fact it’s race that affects behavior, then there should be no black middle class… If it’s the behavior of blacks, why are 70 percent of the blacks not poor?”

“The poverty is coming down for whites and it’s not coming down for minorities. At the very least, we need to explore it,” she said.

Read more of Delavega’s research here and here.

Come fly with me!

Looking forward to writing and reporting about the subjects that matter most for The Memphis Flyer. My first column will be in Wednesday’s print edition and online the following day. I hope y’all will keep up with your girl as I move and shakeup some ish that needs to be shaken.

For now, I’ll be writing every other week, but that could change. Because things change. Shout out to Bruce VanWyngarden for the opportunity. Everyone needs an editor and word on the street is he’s a good one.