In his book, When Work Disappears, William Julius Wilson shares the following anecdote from an elderly woman who had lived on Chicago's South Side, and who observed first hand its decline during four decades
I've been here since March 21, 1953. When I moved in, the neighborhood was intact. It was intact with homes...stores, laundromats, with cleaners. We had drugstores. We had hotels. We had doctors. We had the middle class and the upper middle class. It has gone from affluent to where it is today. I would like to see some of the things come back so I can enjoy them like we did when we first came in.
Why did such qualities of life disappear from Chicago's South Side and other metropolitan areas? In the late 1960's and early 1970's many families began an exodus from the ghettos of Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other metropolitan cities. Many intact families uprooted and moved elsewhere. Not far behind were manufacturing companies and other industry and business.
Another South-sider said
You see all these vacant lots, all these abandoned buildings, and peoples are living in the streets...just, just areas, blocks and blocks of vacant lots...I have my suspicions that the Great Society provided some part of the social disconnect that led to the evacuation of such inner-city areas, but I'm not sure. Alternatively, the fact that black slavery existed in the United States as late as 1954 (see Note 6) provides a poignant look into the still extant collective superiority complex of white America. Whatever the cause of the exodus, the result was massive unemployment--and an equally enormous social vacuum.
Into that breach stepped crack cocaine.
One of the most lucrative inner-city professions has become the drug trade, especially because so few employment alternatives remain. Selling crack is a very lucrative business. William Julius Wilson makes the following additional observations about why that is such a problem:
The decline in legitimate employment opportunities among inner-city residents has increased incentives to sell drugs. The distribution of crack [cocaine] in a neighborhood attracts individuals involved in violence and lawlessness.
Violent persons in the crack-cocaine marketplace have a powerful impact on the social organization of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods plagued by high levels of joblessness, insufficient economic opportunities, and high residential mobility are unable to control the volatile drug market and violent crimes related to it.
Drug dealers cause the use and spread of guns in the neighborhood to escalate, which in turn raises the likelihood that others...will come to view the possession of weapons as necessary or desirable.
The drug industry actively recruits teenagers in the neighborhood partly because they will work more cheaply than adults.
The black-white differential in the proportion of males involved in serious violent crime, although almost even at age 11, increases to 3:2 over the remaining years of adolescence, and reaches a level of nearly 4:1 during the late twenties. However when...only employed black and white males [are compared, there is] no significant difference in the violent behavior patterns among the two groups...
A large proportion of jobless black males do not assume adult roles and responsibilities, and their serious violent behavior is therefore more likely to extend into adulthood.
Racial segregation does matter. The segregated ghetto is not the result of voluntary or positive decisions on the part of the residents who live there. ...the segregated ghetto is the product of systematic racial practices such as restrictive covenants, redlining by banks and insurance companies, zoning, panic peddling by real estate agents, and the creation of massive public housing projects in low-income areas.
I am not in favor of reparations, but I am certain that racism is alive and well in America. And its chief evangelist is the War on Drugs.