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Where is Poverty in Metro Detroit? [Map]

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You can see it anywhere or you may not see it at all, depending on where you live. As the map below shows, Metro Detroit poverty is concentrated in specific areas.

Data source: American Community Survey 2009-2013 (provided with support from Data Driven Detroit). The data are mapped according to the census tract.

When poverty is concentrated in a few places in a region, special challenges and conditions arise. Conan Smith, director of Metro Matters, a regional non-profit research and advocacy organization, will speak WDETSandra Svoboda on these dynamics and suggests some ways in which poverty could be reduced.

Household Poverty and Income Challenges: Give me the “elevator speech” on the subject.

If we look around the region, we see growing differences between the rich and poor houses. More importantly, we are beginning to see a concentration of poverty and prosperity and the subsequent inability of communities to draw the consequences. The city of Detroit is a good example. Given the concentration of poverty, they did not have sufficient resources to deal with some of the common service delivery challenges, which is reflected in communities across the region.

Anne Keesor Photography www.akportraits.com

Conan Smith from Metro Matters

Is it even possible to say what percentage of a city’s community budget is spent on services for low-income groups?

It’s really hard to analyze, but I think it’s a little easier at the county level than the municipal level because the counties are more in charge of social services. So I think one could generally say that at the county level, 30 to 40 percent of their total budget is devoted to issues and programs that support the poor and the very poor. In the context of city government, the percentage is significantly lower. more of their services are general. For example, if you are rich or poor, you deserve excellent police services and an excellent fire department, right?

Speak specifically over What is in a district budget that goes to these low-income groups?

At the county level, you have responsibility for most of the mental health services, most of the food services for the poor, pretty much anything that is a community service has some connection with the county, especially when it comes to public health, mental health, or community health -Development oriented. For example, affordable housing is usually in the bailiwick of the district, as are the communal action agencies, i.e. working with the poorest to build up their communities in order to make them stronger and more stable.

What are the differences between higher-income communities and lower-income communities?

The tragedy here is that from a human perspective there shouldn’t be any, right? But in a high-income community, you see that people pour the appropriate percentage of their income into running the government, but getting a much better, greater, and higher level of service as a result. For example, if I make $ 30,000 a year and you make $ 100,000 a year, we each invest 5 percent of our income in providing services to our community. You will get more just because you invest more in and that is reflected across the region in terms of police and fire services, garbage collection, the quality of community planning you can do, your school districts, everything. So if we focus poverty and prosperity on individual autonomous communities, we see really big differences in the delivery of services.

Talk a little about the characteristics of southeast Michigan in relation to the concentrated, low-income areas.

The big outliers are of course the boroughs of Detroit. Places where perhaps 80 percent of the population live on or below the poverty line. That’s at the neighborhood level. In entire cities we see everything from places like Birmingham, which really have little poverty problem, to places like Lincoln Park and River Rouge, where unemployment is high and household incomes critically low.

So it plays a big role, and our big challenge, is that different social forces are forcing people to live in neighborhoods with people on equal incomes. And so whole communities develop, whose income structure is not different, and we get places where the poor and the very poor concentrate and try to provide services, while sometimes you have other districts or other communities or entire cities in which People are pretty rich.

I think one of the most interesting places is the city of Ann Arbor. We often think of Ann Arbor as a wealthy community full of, very many, rich people. 22 percent of the population are at or below the poverty line. It has real income diversity. What you see in communities with this income diversity is the ability to provide high quality services across the spectrum. That really should be the goal for our entire region.

I think it’s easy to reconcile race and income in our region. So race and class merge for many reasons and not without good reason. If you are black in our church, the chances are you will become poor. So there is a high correlation between race and poverty, but what is challenging is that in most people’s minds the two become the same. And so we often think that transit is a service for the poor or for African Americans, for example. We connect the two in our head and the service itself becomes racialized. These two things have to be talked about in my head at the same time if we are actually to address them.

Take me through issues that get bigger for low-income households or communities with high proportions of low-income households.

Just your basic security and quality of life. If you are thinking from a community perspective, local authorities should provide some very basic services: public safety, public health. If you live in a community that is unable to provide consistent, regular police protection, it makes crime easier to evolve and changes the way a community tolerates crime. The same applies to public health. If you don’t have regular garbage collection, people will find ways to take care of their trash. You won’t live with it, but it often turns into a public problem rather than a problem the public services have solved.

So it is rather an enlargement of everyone’s natural tendencies. Nobody wants to live with trash in their backyard, so we developed trash collection services, right? But if we can’t afford garbage collection, what do you do with it? You will find another way to deal with this mess.

For me, these are the really big challenges in terms of quality of life. Additionally, you find that the users cannot access all sorts of other critical services. For example, access to hospital care and clinical care. We have great nonprofits that host clinics in low-income communities. However, if you live in a high income community, you have easy access to these things.

Part of the easy access to it is our transportation system. So if I make $ 100,000 a year I’ll own a car and be able to get all that stuff in this region. If I make $ 20,000, $ 15,000, or $ 10,000 a year, I’m dependent on public transportation, and our transit system strives to get all of these people to all of these places in the metropolitan area as often as you go without just because it’s impossible is to get to places.

Assuming we believe that poverty and income levels are a problem in the region, how can we fix it?

The solutions must be at regional level or larger. I would really start at the top, at the state level. We have to have a progressive income tax. There are 23 states in the nation that already have this. As you make more money, you pay a higher percentage of your income into supporting the social fabric of your community.

In Michigan we have a flat rate income tax, and for those on lower incomes, they put a higher percentage of their non-discretionary expenses into taxes. Those with higher incomes can bear this burden much more easily. So at the state level we really need to think about a progressive income tax.

If you work it down at the regional level, there are strategies like collective tax action to collect taxes and redistribute them across the region. Places like Minneapolis in the Twin Cities region have been doing this for 20 years. New Jersey has a progressive tax collection and redistribution program so that communities with lower tax bases receive a higher share of regional revenue so they are able to provide some of these important services. Then of course there are also the private-sector components. People have to earn a living wage. We need to make sure that the companies in our community have the ability and also feel the moral responsibility to consistently provide this type of income.

Mapping by NIna Ignaczak.

Supported by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative with support from the James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Michigan Reporting Initiative of Renaissance Journalism.

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Dusty Kennedy