Bell: City needs to attack poverty

Feb. 03, 2014 @ 09:21 PM

Mayor Bill Bell said he will work this year to “raise the visibility of poverty in Durham” and promote the creation of new public-private efforts to counter it.

The issue goes hand-in-hand with the city’s efforts to reduce crime and improve neighborhoods, Bell said on Monday during his annual “state of the city” address.

At about 21.0 percent, Durham’s poverty rate ranks sixth in the state, about the middle of the road for the state’s large cities, he said. Greenville tops the list with a poverty rate of 27.8 percent; Charlotte is 11th with a rate of 17.2 percent.

“It is time we as a community come together to do something about this affliction that directly or indirectly affects us all … whether it is manifested through crime, health disparities, high school dropouts and unemployment,” he said.

Bell suggested two avenues for attacking the problem “year by year, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Church groups, he said, have led the way in developing “intentional relationships” between families in poverty and volunteers who can help them with “important resources” like financial planning and job training.

There’s also a need for a “made in Durham” initiative where business and community leaders help youngsters move through school and into employment, he said.

But it’s “time to stop hoping the solution to solving or reducing poverty will occur by some wealth that will trickle down or that a rising tide will lift all boats,” Bell said. “It’s just not happening.”

He added that the United State has “lost focus” on the issue even as the number of the poor has grown over the past decade.

The problem is particularly acute among children, and among blacks, Bell said.

National groups have noted that unemployment among black men has been a decades-old, “historically intractable” problem, with work for young black men having “all but disappeared.”

He added that the criminal justice system “is delivering a crippling” blow on that front because surveys indicate that 60 percent of employers will not consider hiring an ex-offender.

Bell’s speech on Monday was his 12th annual state of the city address, and was noteworthy for its single-issue focus.

Most prior speeches have covered a range of issues, in recent years highlighting the mayor’s support for the Rolling Hills redevelopment and attempts to crack down on gun-related crime.