Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Geography and the Invisibility of Poverty

Folks, today is blog action day and I'm joining in on the fight to eliminate extreme poverty in Illinois. You can do your part as well by going to the From Poverty to Opportunity web site.

Poverty is everywhere. But, it is most concentrated and noticeable in urban and suburban communities of color and rural towns and villages across the country.

I've written previously about the geography of inequality. It is clear that America is geographically divided into places of opportunity and places of struggle. This geography is a powerful force that often has an ability to squelch individual efforts toward self-improvement and actions to ameliorate despair. Documented in so many places (like this, this, and this) poverty isolation is certainly a broad structural barrier to opportunity and equality.

This isolation further frustrates efforts to eliminate poverty by rendering it invisible. By spacializing poverty and opportunity, those of us not in poverty benefit from the privilege to ignore our struggling brothers and sisters. Even during an age where the middle class is shrinking and the economy is failing, the geographic structure of our lives allows us to complete our day-to-day tasks without significantly interacting with those living in poverty. It encourages us to abandon those less fortunate than ourselves. And, it leads us to believe that we're insulated from the possibility of scarcity in our lives.

Perhaps most importantly, this isolation means that when we try to construct structures of opportunity we too often ignore the input of those in need of these structures. It is imperative that those living in extreme poverty must be engaged in the development, implementation and enforcement of the policies that grant freedom from poverty. Our separation discourages cooperative involvement and diminishes our capacity to value all voices and perspectives.

Hopefully, today will be the beginning of greater solidarity between those living in poverty and those living more comfortable lives. Hopefully, we can all reflect today on how the way we value the least fortunate among us is a reflection of how we value basic human dignity and our own integrity. Today is a chance to reflect. But, more importantly, it is a chance to get involved in the cause of eliminating extreme poverty and getting engaged with those we frequently fail to acknowledge.

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