Race and Inequality in Youngstown, Part 1
Rust Wire contributor Sean Posey has written a response to the piece we posted earlier in the week on the city of Youngstown’s continuing struggle with crime. Here is the first of two parts:
The recent high profile shooting of an elderly couple leaving church on Youngstown’s south side—the second such murder of a parishioner at Saint Dominic’s this year—has rocked the city. The usual calls for greater police crackdowns and the typical mystified responses from the public and the media make it clear that few people understand why exactly a cycle of crime is playing out in our inner cities. The only explanations usually given involve the same stories of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the closures of the mills in the 1970s. Almost none address the fact that Youngstown’s—and indeed almost every ghetto in the Rust Belt—has largely been created by economic structural changes that have disproportionately affected African Americans and by deliberately exclusionary policies designed to reinforce segregation.
In the 1950s urban renewal projects changed the face of entire sections of the city of Youngstown. African Americans found themselves time and again in front of the wrecking ball as highways and industrial parks bisected or obliterated their neighborhoods. Those displaced persons often found themselves shunted into public projects or into older neighborhoods where they could not get home loans—or if they could find an older home to buy, they could not get home improvement loans. Forcefully centralizing low income populations increased blight and started the process of economic and racial segregation. The term for this is concentrated poverty and it is a key issue in inner city areas. It is almost always connected to racial segregation and its definition is a given census tract where forty percent of the population is below the poverty line.
During the 1960s, 27,000 people, nearly all of them white, left the city of Youngstown. At the same time the use of “redlining” and other tactics in the mortgage industry and among neighborhood groups made sure African Americans were kept out of the suburbs and other white neighborhoods. By the year 2000 the city of Youngstown was almost half African American while the African Americans in neighboring Boardman Township made up only about two percent of the population.
When light-manufacturing jobs began to replace heavy manufacturing, it was outer ring and suburban areas where industrial parks and machine shops often located—beyond the reach of inner city African Americans and outside of the informal job system where word of mouth and connections can get you a job. Additionally, in the ever-important trade and apprenticeship programs discrimination proved rampant. As heavy manufacturing employment nosedived—8,000 steel jobs alone disappeared in the 50s and 60s—low skilled African Americans were hit the hardest. Between 1970 and 1990 the black male labor participation rate dropped from seventy one percent to thirty two percent.
Schools too quickly segregated by race. As early as the 1960s schools on the city’s south side—especially the troubled Oak Hill neighborhood—were predominately African American and predominantly low income. By 1990, minority enrollment represented sixty five percent of Youngstown city schools student body, while in the suburbs of Austintown, Boardman, and Canfield, minority enrollment accounted for less than five percent of the overall student body.
In part two I will discuss what effects decades of disinvestment, segregation, and economic collapse have had on Youngstown’s inner city neighborhoods and how that relates to street crime.