Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 26, 2007: Forum urged to attack poverty

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As factories pulled out of the inner city over recent decades, many families, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, became disconnected from the economic mainstream. And without a comprehensive plan to attack such troubling alienation, Milwaukee’s urban core will remain in continual decline, local and national experts said Thursday.

“The real thing that affects people is not poverty, but being disassociated from society,” said one expert, john a. powell, who asks that his name appear in lowercase. Powell is a professor and director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity at The Ohio State University and the Gregory H. Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Moritz College of Law.

“When work disappears, it has a devastating affect on a community. The thing that is so disconcerting in the black community is that people are not connected to jobs.”

Powell gave the morning keynote address at a symposium on poverty at the Italian Conference Center, 631 E. Chicago St.

The symposium, sponsored by the Social Development Commission, brought together business leaders, government agencies and community groups to address the poverty crisis in Milwaukee, which census data show has the eighth-highest rate of poverty among large U.S. cities.

Like many cities nationwide, Milwaukee saw the decline of blue-collar jobs, and as the jobs left, unemployment snowballed, crime rose and many central city families found themselves trapped in a web of poverty without a pathway to self-sufficiency, powell said. African-Americans were disproportionately affected by the shift away from manufacturing to a service economy and now are facing worse poverty than in the 1930s and ’40s when many blacks worked on farms and were more connected to their community.

Michael Eric Dyson – best-selling author, syndicated talk radio host, and a professor of theology and African studies at Georgetown University – spoke about the need for a change in attitude toward the poor.

“We’re talking about a phenomenon that few people have studied,” Dyson said. “When we speak about poverty, we must acknowledge that it’s about infrastructure, a shift in the economy that has made people vulnerable.”

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