In 1998, 48-year-old Parvathi Ammal came to Cupertino, California from Madurai, India, to visit her distant but well-to-do relatives on their invitation. During her originally planned three-month stay, she helped the Gopalan family with household chores, including taking care of their two children and occasional cooking. At the end of her stay, the family invited her to continue living with them as a domestic help for a monthly payment of $300, convincing her that working informally and overstaying her visitor visa, were not crimes.
“Ten years into welfare reform, caseloads may have decreased, but the number of people living in poverty has not,” Robert Wharton, the president and chief executive officer of the Community Economic Development Administration, wrote in a recent piece in the Chicago Sun-Times. “At the same time, the safety net of services and support that once protected the poor lies in tatters. Today, working parents in ill-paid jobs often work themselves right out of eligibility for desperately needed assistance.”
The complex interplay of race and class in the United States ensures that certain areas of domestic policy are suffused with racial bias, bear the imprint of a more frankly racist past, are prone to political manipulation, and serve as touchstones for galvanizing key elements of a racist consensus. Social welfare policy is one such area.
The crisis in America’s urban communities of color takes many shapes, but underlying these various manifestations are problems of economic segregation and persistent poverty. The emerging consensus among community leaders and advocates is that addressing lack of income and wealth must be at the top of the urban agenda.
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