The Sub-Poor

There is a growing class of people in the City of Memphis. No one likes talking about them but everybody knows they are there. I’ve defined this group as the sub-poor.

For the last eight years I have operated a nonprofit that helps those in need. So I feel I may know a thing or two about this topic.

From the outset I want to distinguish between poor and impoverished. As I have noted in earlier post, being poor is a state of mind while poverty is the inability to state your mind. Let me give you a personal example. My dear father passed away when I was a teenager leaving my mother with three children to raise. Instead of going on welfare my mother took on extra work cleaning office buildings at night. We never had a great deal, but I never felt poor, because I was not. I went to school everyday in clean clothes, there was always food in the refrigerator and our utilities and phone never – and I mean never – were turned off. My mother instilled into us the need to respect three things: the law, her and above all else God. But as I pointed out I serve those who are truly impoverished. These are people who may have lost everything, people due to unforeseen circumstances have fallen on hard times and people who have made a wrong turn and only need a little guidance and support to get them back on the right track. These people give purpose to my life.

These unfortunate souls are not the ones I speak of. I’m speaking of people who have no desire to improve themselves. They relish in their ability to manipulate and deceive. Lying and cheating is a way of life. They are quick to give way to their basic urges and slow to learn from their mistakes. They blame everyone but themselves for their situation. Like clans we are seeing these groups grow into their own subclass. In Memphis this group is predominately several generations African American. You could trace these families from slavery, to sharecropping to the projects and now in and out of our criminal justice system. The sub-poor live within the black market. I recall a conversation with a city official as we discussed the demolition of several dilapidated, crime-ridden projects. The official (and I reframe from using his name because he never agreed to have his comments spread across my blog.) was bewildered by a problem he was encountering. He said, “Reginald these residents are angry with us for tearing down these projects. They keep saying fix them up don’t tear them down.” I was not surprised in the least that he was encountering resistance. The City promised to give these residents vouchers so they could pick where they wanted to live and not have to be crammed together in these housing units. I told him the reason these people don’t want to leave is that they are “hooked-up.” The black market was alive and well in the hood. You want drugs just go to the red house on the corner. You need a pair of Levi jeans all you need to do is go next door. This guy Berry has a living room full of jeans he is selling for five dollars. Where he got these jeans no one knows or cares. What the City was doing was breaking up a well established black market system. The City officials argued that by dispersing these residents it will help them integrate among the rest of the citizens of the City. Let me tell you now for many of these people they assimilate not integrate within a community. The intentions of the City were noble, but this is why I have always argued about the importance of civicness. If many of these neighborhoods were stronger they would have been able to withstand the changing population, but because many of these residents have long since given up and retreated into their own homes they were in no position to deal with the influx of previous residents of public housing. Without the on-the-ground support the streets are being taken over by the sub-poor criminal elements and those who feel comfortable living within such an environment. In fact many who came from these projects but were not directly involved in crime quietly supported this change in their new neighborhoods. A mother who has a minimal wage job can turn to her drug selling son for support. People who would never call on the police for help are pleased by the return of a protective local gang. Those who like to sit on the porch to drink and gamble are happy to see their disapproving next door neighbor move.

In every social class the American Dream offers a way up if you are willing to make certain sacrifices. If you are poor you can become middle class; if you are middle class you can become upper middle class and so on. Each move up the rung mostly requires the act of doing more: more willingness to take chances, more education, more work, or more assimilation. The problem with this system is that for the sub-poor the next rung up is to be poor. In other words they must give up their illegal life style and start over from scratch. From their perspective the question is why? If by selling drugs, stealing, prostituting or engaging in other illegal activities can earn them an income equal or greater than what they would earn though “honest work” why should they conform? For you or I the long term benefits are clear but for this subclass that lack an appreciation for delayed gratification such sacrifices are not desirable.

Most of the sub-poor know our judicial system is broken. It’s overburden and under funded. In the utopian world crime will be nearly eliminated because of the achievement of the 3-Prongs of Criminal Justice: assured capture, assured conviction, and assured appropriate punishment. We are a long way from that ideal world, but we can start. Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons wants to spend more money to increase the number of prosecutors in an effort to loosen the bottle next in bringing criminals to justice. This is all part of the 15 strategies under Operation: Safe Community, an anti-crime initiative that has become the buzz word for fighting crime in Shelby County like Blue Crush has become for Memphis. The truth is that these initiatives will be nothing more than a band aid on a growing socialized criminal element unless we are willing to invest the dollars necessary to make a real change; I for one and willing to make this investment.


Anonymous said...

What you're talking about is hood trash. Just like trailer trash for white people. Memphis is full of these people. That's where most of our problems come from.

Anonymous said...

This is what is now fashionable.

Gangsta Rap
Low hanging pants
Chrome in the mouth
Throwing Gang signs
$2,000 rims on a $500 car
Every sentence includes at least one of the following: bitch, Mother F**ker, F**k, hoe, sh*t or niggar.

Answer: Home training

Anonymous said...

Answer: Home training

It's not always the fault of the home. It's hard to raise two boys on my on. Now before you say where was your man. yes he left us but that happens. I did everyting for my boys but the street got both of them. The youngest was killed and the oldest is in jail. Both of them tried to find work but it's hard for a black man to find work. A man is different from a woman he has his pride and when you don't make any money it really works on you. So don't just blame the home blame these business for not having jobs.

Anonymous said...

8:16 I'm not jumping on you but you can't say "...that happens." when you talk about fathers abandoning their families. Black women are going to have to be more selective. There are some women who just want a child and are fine when the man leaves. IT IS WRONG TO RAISE A CHILD WITHOUT A FATHER. These boys will never know what it means to be a real man if there are no men in their life. A mother can only do so much.

CSPAN said...

We live in a materialistic world and these inner-city kids are bombarded with images saying they are only somebody when they have money. Athletes are no better when they do these shows showing their ten million dollar homes. We adults have created a fantasy world and sold these kids on it. We are to blame for what is happening in our country.

Anonymous said...

Section 8 killed our community. These people who are moving in our neighborhood never lived in a house before. They wash their clothes and hang them on the front porch railing. They park their car in the yard killing the grass and they are up all hours of the night fighting and playing their music at full volume. It was better when they lived in the projects.

Anonymous said...

Hey 7:01 you are so right! They need to pass a law against people wearing their pants so low. You see these boys walking around trying to hold their pants up. How they find this comfortable only God knows.

Anonymous said...

For 8:16 a.m. I had a store in the inner city and most of my customers were good people but my employees were stealing me blind. They would come to me begging for a job and when they got it they learned the layout of the business - what days brought in the most money, when was the money taken from the store, how the security system work and then they would tell their friends who would rob my place and split the money with them. There are jobs out there but businesses are reluctant to hire some of these teenagers for just that reason.

Anonymous said...

I think some people just don't know any better. This is all they know and all they ever see. We have to find ways to reach the sub-poor even if they don't want it.

Reginald Milton said...

I have been involved in several programs that targeted those outside the normal scope of service providers. In truth, these were the programs that could have the greatest impact on the sub-poor.

An example would be the Earn Income Tax Credit (EITC). This program puts dollars back into the hands of the working poor. The problem we faced was that many had been going to shady tax preparers where false information was given to increase their tax returns. This made it difficult for these sub-poor workers to utilize our service without divulging their pass digressions.

Another example. I young man came into our office wanting a job working with our troubled teenagers. He had spent many years in and out of the criminal justice system. I felt he could be a good spokesperson for these at-risk youth, but because of his criminal record we are prohibited from hiring him. So here is someone who might want to change his life but is unable because of the life he lived.

That is why this is such a challenge working with this population. They have unknowingly created these barriers that prevent them from moving forward.

I welcome suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Went Downtown the other day and was accosted by not one but three panhandlers. This is ridiculous. They are example Mr. Milton of the sub-poor. They could work but why work when you can beg. If you don't give them money they will try and stare you down or make you feel guilty by saying "God bless you." The city needs to do something about that or no one will go Downtown. Please, don't give them money! You are only helping to make things worse.

Eric said...

6:14 is right. If you keep people down they adapt to the world they are in. You have all these politicians going to jail and the poor people see this they think everybody is on the take so why not them.
Reginald, most of what you said we are in agreement but this is where we disagree, these sub-poor do want to get out but they have settled and just don't know what else to do.

We need to remove barriers such as after say 5 years you have not committed a crime your, nonviolent, record is cleared. This would give people a second chance.

Anybody who wants to go to college should be able to go for free.

That's what I think. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

The poor are not the only cheaters on their taxes. Lots of other folks cheat too, they just have the ability to cover it up thinking that they will never get caught. Many people hide behind business names claiming deductions that are not real. Business expenses they are called. I have friends who work for H&R Block. What is the difference here than what the poor have done? Yet they still work. The only reason they are not poor is because they have cheated so much on income taxes, they have a little money. Uncle Sam gets thousands of dollars out those who cheat when they are caught. People tread down the poor, when they try to make it, but leave out how the just above poor and lower middle class struggle and do every underhanded deed possible to try and get over. The pot cannot talk about the kettle. They are both black and will be set on top of a hot blaze to cook or serve a purpose.

Anonymous said...

I belive that if our young men were told the truth about wearing their pants down low hanging off their butts, they would stop this. This deal started in prisons where the homosexuals would wear their pants hanging below the butt to annnounce their availablity for sex from other perverted preadators in jail. I do not believe that all of these young men who wear their pants down are availble for lude homosexual acts, but if the ones who are not advertising and soliciting lude acts could know that they are giving that signal, perhaps they would stop wearing their pants down below the butt. A rapper put out a song about this and hopefully it will help.

Reginald Milton said...

To 3:36/3:42

I know you are the same person. You have been posting several very mean spirited comments directed toward me. For the most part I've had to delete them because of how derogatory they were and clearly were not suitable for my readers. These last two comments of yours were passable even though I can easily read between the lines.

If there is something I have ever done or said to you to hurt your feelings you have my apology. We all try to move through life the very best we can. Unfortunately it's a one time trip with no do'overs.

Beyond that I can hope whatever is driving your anger will subside.

Go in peace.

Anonymous said...

Know this is not the place for this but you don't allow comments at your Smile! post and I have to tell you the time I bought my wife some thick PJ for Xmas. It seemed like a good idea at the time. She had been complaining that she was cold so for Xmas I got her some pajamas. She was pissed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How could you get me something like this?!!! That was all she would say to me. So you can't be practical huh?

I'm still laughing at your post because my wife looked just like that when she opened her gift. That is so funny. Can't show my wife though she probable won't think it's as funny as me. She put me in the dog house for two weeks.

Anonymous said...

Reginald who is this jerk that is attacking you? Whoever you are this man has given more to his community than most of these so call politicians ever will. You must have nothing else to do. Go get a life.

Anonymous said...

I believe that all of these elements can work together. Why criticize before the opportunity is given to prove or disprove feasibility. Being closely allied with the justice system, I know that all enhancements, in addition to those already under implementation, will make a difference. Operation Blue Crush has been effective in the inner city communities. These residents will embrace all promising challenges. Some of those at the helm of leadership are caring persons. We must allow ideas rendered at least the probability for success.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Milton are you going to talk about the situation with the schools. What can they do? I don't have any children but if I did they would not be going to public school.

BP said...

"The 3-Prongs of Criminal Justice: assured capture, assured conviction, and assured appropriate punishment."

We don't have enough cops on the street to capture the criminals - so no Assured Capture.

We don't have enough prosecutors to convict the guilty - so no Assured Conviction.

We don't have enough jails to punish those found guilty - so no Assured Punishment.

Crime pays as long as we are not willing to pay to put criminals away.

Reginald Milton said...

To 1:02 P.M.

Yes, I plan to devote several of my posts to this topic.

Please keep viewing and feel free to express your views on this problem.