Monday, July 25, 2016

POVERTY IN AMERICA - How the Deck is Stacked

"Poverty-stricken past and present in the Mississippi Delta" PBS NewsHour 7/22/2016


SUMMARY:  Rich in soil, music and culture, the Mississippi Delta is one of those unique regions that has come to hold a special place in the American imagination.  But in terms of economic mobility and poverty, this stretch of land is far behind anywhere else in the developed world.  Kai Ryssdal takes a look at the storied and complex history of the Mississippi Delta.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  While all eyes were on Ohio this week, we look now at another Cleveland, this one in the Mississippi Delta, where poverty and economic mobility are worse than anywhere else in the developed world.

This report is part of our series How the Deck is Stacked.  It’s funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a collaboration from American Public Media’s Marketplace, and “PBS Frontline” and the “NewsHour.”

Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace has the story.

KAI RYSSDAL, Marketplace:  The Mississippi Delta is known for music and for juke-joints like this one, and for rich agricultural land.

Cotton was once the main crop here, now mostly corn.  Despite how fertile the ground is here, one in five households live below the poverty line, and, in fact, Mississippi is ranked 50th out of 50 states by poverty rate; 68-year-old Catherine Wilson has lived here her whole life.

CATHERINE WILSON, Cleveland-area resident:  Back then, in the '60s, just like we had to move from home to home because we didn't have enough to eat, enough money to survive on.

KAI RYSSDAL:  In 1964, President Johnson introduced legislation to deal with a national poverty rate that was almost 20 percent.  It became known as the War on Poverty.  Jobs training, adult education and loans were all part of the plan.

In April of 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy visited the Delta to have a look for himself at how bad the poverty was.

So, this is 1967.  That's Bobby Kennedy right there.  And who is that lady in the striped dress?  Yes.  Pretty good, huh.


KAI RYSSDAL:  That's a smile, right?  Do you remember that?

CATHERINE WILSON:  Yes, I remember the day he came, all right.

KAI RYSSDAL:  What did he want to know?  What did he ask you about?

CATHERINE WILSON:  Asking about what did we want to see done.  They said they want jobs and housing.

KAI RYSSDAL:  Blacks in the Delta had historically worked the land, but mechanization and pesticides meant fewer jobs and less money.

CATHERINE WILSON:  We have come a long ways since back then.  We were so poor and struggling, we didn't have anything.  But right now, a lot of people have got jobs.  They couldn't get no jobs back then.

KAI RYSSDAL:  Catherine Wilson lives alone in a place called Freedom Village, built originally to house those displaced farm workers.

Peter Edelman was an aide to Bobby Kennedy.  He was with him on that 1967 trip to the Delta.

PETER EDELMAN, Former Aide to Sen.  Robert Kennedy:  He said to me as we went from one house to the next that he — this was worse than anything he'd ever seen in a Third World country.

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