Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Statistics Paint Portrait Of A City In Crisis

More and more, we wonder how deep the hole can get before Memphis has no chance of getting out of it.

It was a question we asked again in light of recent updates of Memphis demographic information by the U.S. Census Bureau. It was yet another deafening wake-up call to deal with the deepening, intractable social problems that grip our city and the lack of leadership to tackle them aggressively and forcefully.

More to the point, it was also a reminder that it’s unrealistic to expect Memphis City Schools alone to produce the quality workforce and talent that are needed if our city is to become competitive for the jobs of the knowledge economy.


Memphis City Schools Superintendent, using the theory of change model of his former boss, Miami school superintendent Rudy Crew, points to the tipping point that he’s seeking for the district, the point at which students and the system improve to create a competitive position in the global economy.

It’s an audacious goal, but it’s clear that there’s no question that it is a time for audacity and ambition. At the same time, it’s unrealistic to expect Memphis City Schools in about eight hours a day to reverse the realities that face most students in their other 16 hours.

For way too long, Memphis – as well as other cities – has spent billions on the symptoms of poverty, while doing little to address the causes or its pervasiveness. With the recent release of the census numbers, there should be little argument that Memphis needs an unprecedented, citywide counter offensive aimed at reducing poverty once and for all.

Making The Main Thing The Main Thing

No city has more incentive.

Memphis has more people living in poverty – about one in every four Memphians – than roughly the entire population of Chattanooga.

The poverty rate for Memphis has risen 27% since 2000 – from 20.6% to a staggering 26.2%.

From 2000 to 2006, the median household income of white Memphians increased 20.2% and, despite the professed importance of increasing black income and minority businesses by all economic development agencies, the median household income of African-Americans dropped 3%.

Warning Signs

Large sections of Memphis – including most of North Memphis, South Memphis, and Orange Mound - have median household incomes of less than $22,500 and some are less than $8,000. Many of these same areas have unemployment rates higher than 30%.

Despite a major summit, a two-year program launched by Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton and more than a dozen initiatives, infant mortality in parts of Memphis remains essentially unchanged at levels more consistent with third world nations.

Forty percent of children in Memphis under the age of 18 years old live in poverty, a catastrophic 40% increase in six years.

Young Problems

More than 30% of students in 80% of all Memphis City Schools change schools each year, and in 11 schools, more than half the students move each year.

Each month, 80-100 children are left by their parents or guardians at Juvenile Court because they are uncontrollable.

Memphis is in the top five cities in the percentage of 16-19 year-olds that are neither working nor in school.


About a year ago, St. Louis mapped out its competitiveness and quality in life by comparing the city to 35 other metros, including Memphis. The others are Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Miami.

Here are the categories where we finished #1:

• Families headed by single parents

• Families in poverty

• Smallest percentage of adults with advanced degrees

• Smallest number of firms (with employees) owned by African-Americans per 100,000 of African-Americans

• Smallest number of firms (with employees) owned by women per 100,000 of women

• Births to teen parents

• Persons with disabilities living in poverty

• Unwed parents

• Individuals living in poverty

• Children living in poverty

• Metro crime rate

Wanted: Change Agent

In other words, the past decade has been a punishing time for Memphis. New jobs growth went south, and how far we declined is shown graphically in the goal in Memphis Fast Forward to create 10,000 jobs a year, the number that we were doing regularly 15 years ago.

In other cities, it is often necessary to shake things up with a change in government structure, with new regional alliances and with economic growth strategies that leap frog them ahead of their rivals. But when it’s all stripped away, there’s absolutely no substitute for a courageous, creative leader in the mayor’s office who understands how their cities work and how to use their city’s distinctive, strategic levers for change to make maximum progress.

Here, the foundation for that kind of new vision and new leadership must be built on an honest, introspective civic conversation about the convergence of race and poverty in Memphis. As the first African-American metro with more than one million people, we have a strong self-interest in this issue, but we also are the most appropriate place in the U.S. to create new solutions to these very old problems.


Zippy the giver said...

God Bless the author of this Blog!
Our mayor and all city officials that got us to this state of depravity need to step down and run for their lives.

If I did as badly for ANY employer as they have done for Memphis, I wouldn't just be fired, I would be beaten to death, after being dragged to death behind horses through the town, after being stoned to death, after being shot, after being caned, after being boiled alive, after being tried, convicted, and executed by public slapping to death.

Oh, they've made themselves rich rich rich. Storing up too much money.
No deals for the petty street thugs? Looks like Gibbons is barking up the wrong tree.

Yeah, Memphis needs a bold new vision alright, but, it needs to clear the poop and blood off it's glasses first.
Then the citizens need to lose their taste for blood.
That will probably fade away once they learn they don't have to cannibalize each other to make a living. That will happen when a real plan is taken action on to fruition, not just till people stop paying attention.

fearlessvk said...

these statistics makes me profoundly sad.

i am no expert on memphis, or on local politics, or on other cities that have pulled themselves out of bleak situations...but i have to wonder:

are these really problems that can be solved by local leadership?

this blog frequently speaks of the global economy, and of the need to "compete" in the global economy...and while that language often makes me nervous for a variety of reasons, i do think it points to a significant fact - the problems of memphis are not created by memphis alone. they are deep, structural, systemic, and global problems. memphis needs help (as do a lot of places), but it's just not clear to me that memphis can help itself.

there was a time when substantial federal aid was actually available for cities.......

i guess those days are over.

Anonymous said...

'substantial federal aid' helped create the multi generational welfare state in which most of the areas described wallow through the years.

personal responsibility has been replaced with a thuggish tribe mentality in which society at large is seen as the enemy, and are to blame for all problems.

the middle class listened attentatively to hizzonor and took his advice, 'leaving' to the hoodrats and hootchiemamas the decaying core of mid americas great new city.

what you sow, you reap.

Aaron said...

SMC: Can we really talk about being globally competetive and dealing with our local poverty in the same sentence?

Poverty is like Humpty Dumpty- far easier to destroy him or a people then to piece them back to together. Far easier destroy and sap our natural resources then to ammend the damage. We have not only physically poor here but we have a dysfunctional poor which means the implementation of solutions is painfully slow and seemingly fruitless in the short term.

What can we do?

Empower the functional poor that have dreams and aspirations. Lower the ecoomic and educational barriers that stifle their entreprenurial spirits. Memphis Bioworks is trying to do this. But, a large percentage of the Biotech workforce is made up of PhD's. It's going to be awhile until get a "fresh" crop of those here- but...Bioworks is working on it! That's encouraging.

MIFA operated the Opportunity Banc for a few years as a place where low income people with ideas could be taught the basics of business and then apply for a small business loan-but that program is extinct.

What baffles me is what to do with the teen parents that are having 4-6 kids all before the age of 25?
For every low-income child you pair with a mentor or send to college, you have 3 or 4 more born to take their place. Let's face it the "village" is not big enough to raise all these kids.

Strangely enough, when you live in Memphis you directly feel the impact of this birth issue. The ones that fall through the cracks and don't get paired with a mentor or fail to get on the education track end up in your back yard or in your car. Since moving from California 2 years ago to Midtown our family has 5 incidences of theft or burglary. I used to think that the crime here was just blown out or proportion. It's real, every one of my neighbors has had a similar story to share.

Two choices...
Leave or make living in Memphis your life mission. If you are here to enjoy Memphis and think you won't be affected by the poor then give it some time. We all need to either collectively get involved or at some point leave. On my good days I am excited to be able to help low-income kids and teach them skate boarding as a positive outlet. On my bad days, our family want to pack our bags and go West and never look back.

So in the long run, Memphis problems are not going away. If we can empower people with dreams and slowly reduce the birth rate then maybe in a few decades this place will look different. It's going to take a city wide effort where every citizen must be involved otherwise expect to see your tax dollars go to building bigger prisons and you neighborhood looking more and more like the poor mans shopping mall.

Becoming Globally competitive? Just clean the house first. Sigh....

Anonymous said...

Change comes from within. NOT from funding by government programs.

Pavlov's dog. We have a large segment of this community that waits on the proch for the check.

Like animals in the zoo, we've trained people to expect handouts.

I'm sick and tired of hearing why folks live in poverty and there is no way out.

when I was 18 I joined the service. Left the small town that offered no opurtunities, and learned a vocation.

I got out, and applied myself and am living quite well now.

ANYONE can do it.

You just have to WANT to.

No moe excuses. it holds NO water with me.

Aaron said...

How do you teach "want" ? Someone taought you to want or you were lucky enough to be one of the rare "resilient" types.

Aaron said...

taught not taoght- my bad.

Tom Guleff said...

Mr J,

We need to find a candidate for mayor that is willing to risk about everything to turn this around.

That my friend is a tall order.

Anonymous said...

Teaching family planning and delaying having children by just a few years would help alleviate poverty; the problem is, that issue is as much a symptom of pverty as it is a cause.

gatesofmemphis said...

I'd like to know how much is new poverty -- families once working or middle class descending into poverty, and how much is intergenerational poverty. Are these new problems, or are they the same problems -- poverty and racism -- unsolved but more apparent because of the flight of the middle class and the progress of peer cities? I think the latter, but I'd like to know.

Substantial federal aid can mean many things. It could be a massive influx of necessary infrastructural improvements like new highway bridges and high-speed rail, and/or relocation of federal offices, and/or university funding, and/or investment capital for micro-businesses. As long as it's targeted towards ending large-pockets of chronic poverty by providing middle-class jobs and entrepeneurial opportunities,

The federal government jump-started much of our economic progress -- the transcontinental railroad and the settlement of the west, the Cold War and the aerospace industries, DARPA and the internet. There's no reason why it shouldn't be a partner in starting an end to poverty. And we'd be stupid not to let it, considering that the South is a net recipient of federal tax revenue.

Smart City Consulting said...


We're thinking about writing more on the question you're asking, and we were curious to see if the increase is a statistical anomaly caused by reduction of the middle class. More on that later, but there was a significant increase in the actual numbers of people living in poverty.

Zippy the giver said...

kztkfuyhIt, the solution, stares us in the face and we avoid looking at it as if we would be guilty of looking directly into the sun.
What is the thing that is killing the poor and keeping them poor, every month?
Energy costs. Gas and Utilities.
All over the country, poor people have utilities, they can't afford them. Cities have multimillion dollar utility bills some like Memphis don't bother to pay for months or years. That energy isn't free and I bet the purveyors don't have a "net 365" policy. You pay it in overcharging. Not the "yous" that might have a mind to fight it, but the people who have no resources to.


Then there is the Mindset cause and the psychological causes.
Memphis is a city who's people are all in PTSD. All victims of crime, poverty, violence etc. It's really no wonder no one can think of or have the backbone to actually implement a long term or breakthrough solution past public attention span. YOU'RE ALL SCARED TO DEATH OF EACH OTHER.
You should be, I've met many of you. Some of you tried to kill me. I'm not that ugly. I came here to contribute, but, I got blocked.
Really, you have shot yourselves in the foot more times than anyone can count, usually, thinking it's "The Solution" without a real plan and vapor for accountability. Don't feel bad, knowing where you are is the first step to actually moving forward as opposed to BSing people into believing you're moving forward when you actually don't know your butt from a hole in the ground.
Mike Hooks in charge of any federal money or anything else in a rehab program is an example.
Memphians like being placated. So busy avoiding being a sucker that Memphis could put a sign on the bridge, "Suckerville".
OK enough of THAT.
The Solution = you will need to actually finish a job. You will have to actually rehab your prisoners and put molesters in prison for life. One is as important as the other. The rehab program will have to be proven effective in another state with stats better than 80% effective at rehab.
That isn't what we have now. What we have now is a joke and with "the Criminal and impoverished population the size of Chatanooga" living here you need to have a widescale program. People need to be retrained from the ground up.
Aaron, there is a program that can effectively teach "want". Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist or that it isn't effective. People's opinions, unsubstantiated fear of success, and personal unqualified feelings when they are in power shut things down.

Memphis is late looking for solution because the leadership is trying to bleed off more federal money as The Solution, as usual.
A pep talk and some jobs isn't gonna do it.
That's called a knee-jerk.
So what, there is a growing population,,, of dysfunctional people, so, turn them into fully functioning people and you'll get a healthy city in return.
Resilience can be taught in a few days, long days, but, days. Just because you may not believe it doesn't mean you are right. You aren't.

Memphis has yet to come up with and successfully implement one alternative solution to any of it's problems. It is a chronic and constant beggar at the federal door.

It suffers a severe lack of creativity and lethargy.
That's why I'm implementing Aaron's solution, or, inevitability, I'm leaving. You can't get enough cooperation to get anything done. This IS a place where you fight and fight and fight and I don't have time for the unnecessary drama anymore.

Zippy the giver said...

Now that the government is the sole owner of all of America's bad debt in Mortgages, and the lower class is driven to the brink and over in one summer, and the rich are floating high above it all, who will we sell all that bad debt/houses soon to be vacant/American soil to?
Saudi Arabia or China?
Who's slaves will we be?

Zippy the giver said...

I hope you were paying very close attention to treasury secretary Paulson.
The path and plan IS OFFICIAL!
We are selling the "bad debt" and real estate foreclosures to foreign governments.
Did you get that clearly,
We are about to finish off the job Bill Clinton started
by selling seats on the board of trade, we are about to be the slaves of foreign governments. They are not releasing who yet, but, you better pay close attention.
Islam is not above economic warfare and this could be an official WIN for them.
Saudi money, watch and see.

Anonymous said...

hey, where did you get your stats from? I can't find them confirmed...

Smart City Consulting said...

Which stats are you wanting sourced?

welfare_to_work said...

I found the study from St. Louis. Great source although some numbers are slightly different than others I've found. But I couldnt find a source for this quote: "Large sections of Memphis—including most of North Memphis, South Memphis, and Orange Mound—have median household incomes of less than $22,500, half the national average, and may have unemployment rates higher than 30%."
Thanks. Good stuff.

Smart City Consulting said...

Welfare to work: Our source for that statistic was a map prepared by City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development. I can't remember their citation for it, but I'll see if I can find it.