Detroit: American Epicenter of Global Poverty

By Tina M. Patterson

As a leading global superpower, the United States is a well-known distributor of foreign aid to lesser developed countries around the world. Illustrating this perception, California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff noted “Americans are blessed with great plenty; we are a generous people and we have a moral obligation to assist those who are suffering from poverty, disease, war and famine.”

This is indeed a noble pursuit, yet one does not need to venture outside the U.S. to distribute aid to those in need. Despite all the wealth and resources of this nation, it refuses to be a benefactor in relieving its own alarming poverty crisis, thereby failing in its responsibility and protection of the nearly 40 million Americans living in poverty.

The U.S. is not alone in neglecting its domestic needs. Joan Blaney, the British author who recently joined The PuLSE Institute, explained that while Britain is the world’s sixth largest economy, there is an estimated 13.5 million people living below the poverty line who are unable to meet their basic needs, pay household bills and feed their families.

Furthermore, by global standards, in the U.S., the premier first world nation, there are more Americans who are absolutely poor than in developing nations like Sierra Leone and Nepal. And of the millions of impoverished in the U.S., no major city has larger population of people living in poverty than right here in Detroit. On a global level, this dubious distinction renders Detroit the epicenter of poverty in America.

There is no doubt that addressing this issue on such a wide scale will require creative and multidimensional approach. Private enterprise must implement true economic initiatives to equalize the playing field, as seen in Bangladesh with the Grameen Bank by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, which offers micro lending to the poor to start their own businesses.
Public officials must introduce innovative solutions such as what we are seeing in Stockton, California, where Mayor Michael Tubbs began a universal basic income pilot program. Everyday citizens at the grassroots level must not wait for permission or allowance and most importantly, stay educated on issues affecting their communities to measure progress, hold their public leaders accountable, and demand change as necessary.

However, before we can begin this work, one crucial element must be present for serious change to occur: genuine commitment.

In recent history, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, both of whom correctly connected the poverty entrenched in the black struggle in the U.S. to liberation movements around the globe, exemplified true leadership through their genuine dedication to fighting the injustices of poverty.

When reflecting on their legacies, the notable theologian Dr. James Cone stated best that “creative leadership involves first and foremost a sincere commitment to serve the ‘least of these.’ They are the people who serve the poor, empowering them to fight against the inhuman conditions of poverty.”

The poverty in Detroit is not a minor concern that can be resolved with an ordinance banning its practice. No amount of development deals or donations by major foundations can eliminate the destitution.

The poverty in Detroit is not just a regional issue that is an unknown phenomenon to the Upper Peninsula or an anonymous occurrence that is invisible to the people in New York, California, or London.

The poverty in Detroit is an international crisis and must be addressed with urgency, beginning with sincere appreciation for the magnitude of this issue and unwavering devotion to equality for the dispossessed.

Tina M. Patterson is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.

One comment

  1. Hi Tina, and thank you for that wonderful colloquy. Your summation of Detroit’s poverty was rather striking. Yes, most would agree by most standards Detroit could be depicted as the epicenter of all that ills America’s cognitive dissonance with prosperity and poverty. Unfortunately, our definition of poverty remains far too narrow and restrictive, and our obsession with prosperity far too problematic.

    The broader conversation should include our (Detroit)’s antiquated public transportation systems, our disparate communities;not to mention the lack of diversity which perversely plagues our city. You offer private enterprise as an antidote and I could not agree more, however, a stronger case could be made for a more robust public private partnership. keep in mind, private enterprise is motivated by profit. Thus, the overarching question, would everyone be included?

    John F. Kennedy inspired the nation when he said, ” a rising tide lifts all boats.” Let us remain mindful; when we have adequate public transportation, diversity among places to shop, eat, and spend our money; education is fair and equitable, and employment reasonably within reach, then and only then can we(Detroit) begin to have an earnest discourse on the topic of poverty.

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