“It’s incredible that we tolerate for a minute the reality of 6 million of us living on food stamps alone,” Laura Flanders observed last week in a Nation blog post. (Nationally, the average monthly individual food stamp benefit is $134.) “I suspect it’s because we’re experiencing a new kind of segregation,” Flanders wrote. “Somehow, neither policy makers nor opinion makers seem to know enough poor people well enough to feel them, living and breathing.”
Flanders is right that segregation is central to our apathy about poverty; it isn’t really six million of us subsisting on food stamps. But segregation isn’t new, nor is it limited to policy makers and opinion makers. It’s a way of life, in Chicago and many big cities. As we showed last year, most of our city’s African-Americans still live in 21 community areas whose aggregate population is a stunning 96 percent black. The vast majority of Chicago’s high-poverty census tracts are in these areas.