Study: Poverty Rising In Boston's Inner City

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For poor people in Boston's inner city, the last decade has a been cruel one.

A new study written by the Boston Foundation finds that while poverty city-wide has remained steady, it has increased in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. In those communities, 42 percent of children are now considered poor. And though poverty has risen significantly for African-American kids across the city since 1990, the study shows that for white children it's declined considerably.

One place people can get help is Elm Hill Family Service Center in Roxbury. It's run by Action for Boston Community Development, or ABCD. WBUR's Bob Oakes asked operations manager Tony Richards about the changes he's seen over the past five years.

Thirty-five percent of African-American children in Boston live below the poverty line compared with 9.5 percent of white children.

"With the recession, I think that we're receiving two different kind of waves of poverty," Richards said. "The traditional poor, and also what we call the new poor — people who have been recently laid off, and are kind of new to receiving benefits."

ABCD's numbers tell it all: In the last year, they've seen a 119 percent increase in clients seeking food assistance and a 47 percent jump in those needing help with rent. In each of the last three years, the agency has reported a 15 percent rise in Boston residents applying for heating assistance.

Among them is 36-year-old Chanika Withers of Roxbury. She's a single mother of six children, aged 1 to 16. She moved to Boston from Georgia in the spring to escape domestic violence. Withers has been out of work for two years, and though she has some college education, she can't find a job. She's living on government assistance, and when we met her at the family service center, she said she's struggling to break out of poverty's grip.

"I don't understand why it's so hard. It's very hard," Withers told Oakes. "I have a resume. I have work experience. But it's very hard, and I really don't understand why it's that way."

Withers has previously worked as a front desk clerk and night auditor at a hotel, as well as a certified nurse's aide. She said she's willing to take any job, but when she recently applied at McDonald's, she was told she's overqualified.

According to Richards, Elm Hill Family Service Center is seeing results with its career coaching and other training programs.

"We're seeing a lot of people who actually obtain jobs and are kind of moving out of poverty," Richards said. "But then there are also the people who are filling their spot. It's like a revolving door."

Withers hopes to break the cycle of poverty by returning to college.

"That's all I want, is to be able to provide for the kids, go to school, everyone be happy," Withers said. "I mean, we smile every day, but sometimes you have to put on that... you have to put on a mask. You have to. And especially for the kids. You don't want them having to worry about things they need not worry about."


Right now, Withers' six kids are among the 35 percent of African-American children in Boston who live below the poverty line. That's compared with 9.5 percent of white children.

You can read the full report, below:

This program aired on November 10, 2011.


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