In Chicago, car pools of once-unemployed workers from the job-depleted city travel to the suburbs to $7-an-hour, entry-level jobs. In Newark, N.J., serious community commitment has proved that neighborhoods can revitalize themselves and thrive.
In the quest to rebuild Los Angeles’ inner city, solutions might be found in cities thousands of miles away--cities that suffer from the same social ills, from illiteracy and escalating school dropout rates to teen-age pregnancies and unemployment.
In each city, community-based organizations and philanthropic agencies tackle several problems at a time.
“The face of poverty today is radically different than 20 years ago, because there are multiple barriers versus single barriers,” said James Johnson of the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. “So when you talk about how to intervene in someone’s life, you’re talking about multiple strategies.”
Although the organizations featured in this article use varying methods to advance their projects, each has thrived on a common goal: to first empower the community to change its situation.
“Sometimes people just need to know they have the power to make a difference in their own lives,” said Msgr. William Linder, founder of the New Community Corp. in Newark. “This can happen anywhere.”
Jobs: Los Angeles’ unemployment rate in August was 8.8%. Thousands of jobs have been moved out of the inner city; many that remain are low-paying and dangerous. This leaves a void of entry-level jobs for inner-city residents.
In Chicago, as in many urban areas, the jobs are in the suburbs and the workers are in the city. And ne’er the two shall meet.
With inner-city residents without cars and a Chicago mass transit system that doesn’t venture out to many of the suburbs, entry-level suburban jobs went unfilled and inner-city residents went without work.
In Los Angeles County, there are also more jobs in the suburbs, but getting to them is an often insurmountable task for inner-city residents. For example, it takes about two hours to get from South-Central to Torrance if buses run on time, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.
In Chicago, jobs are a 40-minute ride away for residents of the LeClaire Courts housing project, thanks to a city-to-suburbs commuting program. In 1989, with financial and planning help from local community development organizations, the residents bought a van, designated a driver and went after the jobs.
The outcome was Accel Transportation, one of two transportation services linking Chicago’s inner city and suburbs 45 to 60 minutes away. Its counterpart, Suburban JobLink Inc., finds jobs and shuttles inner-city residents from the city to the suburbs.
Rebuild L.A., which has been examining various urban transportation issues, has not yet considered a system similar to Accel and Suburban JobLink, RLA officials said.
“We’re really looking at building communities for industries that would bring jobs and ownership to the neglected areas where people live now,” said Jackie Dupont-Walker, head of urban development for RLA.
Urban-policy experts say reverse-commuting is easier than trying to relocate poor people to the suburbs or lure businesses back to the city.
“You can’t move people to the suburbs or businesses to the city without much backlash,” said Mark A. Hughes, author of “The New Metropolitan Reality: Where the Rubber Meets the Road in Antipoverty Policy.”
“But you can work to chip away at the problem of getting jobs for these people by teaching them skills to job-search and then helping them get out to those areas to put those skills to work.”
With an annual budget of $250,000, Accel uses vans in three shifts to carry as many as 120 riders to jobs not accessible by public transit. The round-trip ride is $6.50, subsidized by some employers or paid by riders.
Most of the riders are women and blacks who are employed chiefly in jobs at nursing homes and hotels, at hourly wages of $6 to $7.
Accel gets about 45% of its revenues from rider fares, up to 10% from foundations, and additional funds from the local transit system and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“There are a lot of different ways to measure success. Accel is not wealthy, but they’re breaking even and they’re providing more than rides to people,” said Carol Dougan, executive director of the Chicago Institute for Economic Development.
“This is about job creation and empowerment of people. Even though it’s on a small scale, it is making a difference,” she said.