While there have been many socio-economic 'explanations and justifications' for the recent events in Ferguson, many of which have exceeded the realm of the factual and have brazenly encroached on feelings, emotions, heartstrings, and various other of the media's favorite manipulative mechanisms to achieve a desired outcome, the unpleasant reality is that much of what has transpired not only in the small 21,000-person St. Louis suburban community, but what is taking place across all of America has to do with a far simpler phenomenon: the rise of poverty and the destruction of America's middle class.
Here are some facts:
Ferguson has been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.
Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.
These changes affected neighborhoods throughout Ferguson. At the start of the 2000s, the five census tracts that fall within Ferguson’s border registered poverty rates ranging between 4 and 16 percent. However, by 2008-2012 almost all of Ferguson’s neighborhoods had poverty rates at or above the 20 percent threshold at which the negative effects of concentrated poverty begin to emerge. (One Ferguson tract had a poverty rate of 13.1 percent in 2008-2012, while the remaining tracts fell between 19.8 and 33.3 percent.)
Below are charts of Ferguson poverty in 2000 and 2012:
Then: Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2000
and Now: Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2008-2012
The biggest concern, however, is that Ferguson is merely the canary in the coalmine. According to Brookings, within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.
Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.
Suburban areas with growing poverty are also frequently characterized by many small, fragmented municipalities; Ferguson is just one of 91 jurisdictions in St. Louis County. This often translates into inadequate resources and capacity to respond to growing needs and can complicate efforts to connect residents with economic opportunities that offer a path out of poverty.
And as concentrated poverty climbs in communities like Ferguson, they find themselves especially ill-equipped to deal with impacts such as poorer education and health outcomes, and higher crime rates. In an article for Salon, Brittney Cooper writes about the outpouring of anger from the community, “Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream.”
We have warned all along that the Fed's disastrous policies are splitting the nation in two, creating a tiny superclass of uber-wealthy oligrachs, and a vast majority of disgruntled, disenfranchised poor. It is the latter, whose life of squalor and poverty, has left them with little if anything to lose. Unless dramatic and rapid changes take place within the executive levels of the US corporato-banking oligrachy and its D.C. puppets, very soon "Ferguson-type" occurences, where participatnts could care less if the S&P 500 closed at a fresh all time record high, will become a daily, and very deadly, occurence. All thanks to the Fed's dual mandate of "maximum employment and stable inflation."
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And as a tangent, we must say that we find the fact that none other than former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is now a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, the source of most of the above data, to be ironic beyond words.