Twin Pillars of Poverty in Black America: NTDs and Incarceration

By | March 29, 2013

In the United States of America, a higher percentage of African Americans live in poverty than any other racial/ethnic subgroup. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27.4% of blacks lived below the poverty line in 2010, compared to 9.9% non-Hispanic whites, while 38.4% of black children (almost five million children) lived in poverty compared to 12.4% of non-Hispanic white children [1]. A high percentage of Hispanics (26.6%) and their children (35%) also live below the poverty line [1].

One of the more compelling reasons for this huge disparity among poverty levels was stated recently by Michelle Alexander, a law school professor at Ohio State University. In her landmark book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press), she makes a convincing case that the Jim Crow order that existed in this country prior to the 1960’s Civil Rights movement never really disappeared but instead was reincarnated in the form of incarcerating a generation of young African American men [2]. As Anderson states in her book, the 30-year-old “War on Drugs” has expanded the U.S. penal population almost 10-fold –from 300,000 to 2 million. Today the U.S has the largest number of prisoners anywhere in the world – even more than China or Iran [2]. Most of those are jailed for convictions of non-violent crime related to drug possession, and in some states black men are 20-50 times more likely to see prison time than white men [2]. In Washington, D.C., three of four black men have or are at risk of serving time in prison [2]. (Public Library of Science)

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