Ghetto Goldmines, Hood Economics: The Dark & Deep Side of American Capitalism Nobody Talks About

Poverty is profitable for everyone except poor people

Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash

This piece is dedicated to our brothers and sisters suffering in Texas and other low income and working class communities across the country with poor and outdated infrastructure. When the weather clears mobilize to get those politicians out of office that voted to acquit the man who wanted to waste precious taxpayer’s money to build a wall and not much needed infrastructure to keep out people from Mexico — the same place Ted Cruz vacationed in luxury while people suffered and died — without basic necessities like heat, food and water.

Someone is eating good, going on lavish trips, buying nice homes and sending their kids to college with the pennies and profits from poor neighborhoods and it’s not us.

Never in my wildest dreams as a writer growing up in a rural town on the Eastern shores of Maryland and starting college and life in Philadelphia did I think I’d quote DMX, in a social commentary piece, but Earl Simmons said it best when it comes to hood economics:

“Y’all been eatin’ long enough now stop being greedy
Just keep it real partner, give to the needy” — 1998 Song, Stop Being Greedy

Donny Hathaway sang about, “The ghetto,” and mainstream media and some politicians would have you believe that the only people who are “preying on” or profiting off “the hood” are the heartless, violent, drug dealers and their “gang” of thugs… But ask yourself — who owns most of the residential and commercial buildings and businesses in this sad real life monopoly board?

According to Phillymag.com, 44.1% of Philadelphia residents are Black and 13.6% identify as Latino. Yet, only 2.5% of businesses are Black owned. While in contrast, 34% of the population is white, but they own 76% of the businesses. It should be noted that other sources are challenging this figure claiming the Pew Data was dated and didn’t include Black owned businesses (BOBs) that had one or zero employees which is prevalent in BOB’s due to the lack of traditional funding, confirmed by SBA data.

Whether it’s 2.5% or the argued 20+% of single owner/zero employee firms are Black owned, again I ask who is profiting off poor neighborhoods? Regardless of the percentage of ownership — it’s still not Black people (if 90% of our businesses don’t employ anyone). Someone is eating good, going on lavish trips, buying nice homes and sending their kids to college with the pennies and profits from poor neighborhoods and it’s not us.

Having lived in some of the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia, I see daily life differently. Now don’t get me wrong, drugs are a problem — it’s not surprising with the city’s 25% poverty rate, according to Philly.com. However, if it wasn’t for the corner boys watching over my family as a single mother of a young child, caregiver of my disabled Grandfather -we may have had a very different experience.

I don’t know if it’s my many years of working with at-risk youth, community advocacy or living in low-income, working class neighborhoods or my genuine love of Black and brown people, but I’ve always found something good in my “hood”. I live by the code to treat people with respect and kindness, keep your head on a swivel and if you’re good to the hood — the hood will be good to you and they have. When my wallet was stolen from work at two different schools — the hood brought my wallet and car keys back…

But the businesses play by different rules. Trust and believe landlords in the hood are getting their money — because bad things happen when you don’t pay them. It’s a known fact that when you’re rent is late your heat, electricity or water mysteriously malfunctions or worse you’ll never be able to leave your house. Hood landlords are notorious for ironically named “self-help evictions” where they illegally lock you out or put your things on the streets.

I’ve had a very nice Eastern European maintenance man warn me not to let my old landlord in because he said he has a temper and he’s “seen some things”. I didn’t ask what and he didn’t say, but he added that it definitely wasn’t legal in America. So you’re not always safe even in your homes if you live in a poor neighborhood — even your landlord can be a threat.

I’m having a mid-life crisis, but I didn’t buy a new sports car — I was forced to move from my temporary home in the suburbs to a hood adjacent apartment in Philly with the standard hood features:

  • Poorly maintained, lower square footage
  • Listed amenities that don’t work or not easily accessible
  • Rude and borderline abusive landlords who treat you like crap because they know if you had more money you wouldn’t live there

I laugh to keep from crying and I use humor and my writing not to go insane.

In two weeks, I’ve spent close to $6,500 to get my car fixed, pay a moving company, and the rest of my rental deposits. And it’s most certainly not going to get cheaper, contrary to popular belief. Groceries tend to be higher in lower income areas or we have to travel a distance. Soy or almond milk from WholeFoods or Trader Joes costs $2.99 — where it’s $3.99 or higher in a local grocery store —that’s if I have a local grocery store in my neighborhood.

All of these businesses I used in the last month are owned my men who either smiled and over charged me or literally yelled and screamed as I waited for them to finish their mantrum and then I said what I needed to say —

In every instance, I knew they were taking advantage of me, but I’ve learned to just pay the money, to safely see another day or get to the next step. When you have limited options, resources and support you learn how to survive. Making too much noise brings unwanted attention and danger as a single woman.

Too many businesses thrive in spaces where poor, women and people of color have no other choices — and the transactions are often fraudulent, predatory or simply horrifically dehumanizing experiences. Some of the biggest culprits:

  • Slumlords
  • Predatory lenders and pawn shops
  • Used car lots and car repair shops
  • Black hair supply stores (which rarely owned by Black people)
  • Liquor stores
  • Convenience and take out stores
  • Pre-paid phone and furniture rental companies

They deliberately put their businesses in poor, Black and brown communities. Some prey on the desperation created by limited options, funds and illegal opportunities with no oversight or recourse. Others are life savers.

Why should I feel lucky to pay for overpriced, subpar food, goods and services or to live in poorly maintained properties where we’re constantly playing what’s that smell, what’s that noise or what color will my water be today?

Customers are often treated with disdain and disrespect and a lot of these business owners are not from our communities, nor do they understand our culture, language, regional dialects, slang or terms of endearment, but they can rudely say:

“Hurry up, what do you want?”

“Don’t complain or get out”…

And if you complain, they say my favorite, “You should feel lucky…”

Why should we feel lucky to pay for overpriced, subpar food, goods and services or to live in poorly maintained properties where we’re constantly playing what’s that smell, what’s that noise or what color will my water be today?

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about hard working Black and brown or immigrant owners who respect and are part of the communities they serve. I’m talking to people who use poor neighborhoods to cover their unethical, unlicensed and sometimes illegal businesses practices. The ones that clearly only believe stereotypes and disrespect poor, Black and brown men, women and children with racist, sexist and elitist comments. They equate poor with stupid.

During the pandemic these issues have worsened. Now poor people have even less housing and store options and in some communities delivery services won’t come to the neighborhoods.

And on the edge of all this are the nonprofits that are there to help… According to philanthropy statistics, most nonprofits have predominately white staff and directors who are paid to “help” or save us from problems they’ve personally or their organizations’ help create or perpetuate like race and class bias and discrimination, and wage inequalities, etc.

Billions of dollars are donated to organizations that have little or no representation from the communities they “serve” which is a high indication that they have low cultural competency and success rates. Executive directors are often paid high salaries to keep pushing the narratives that they are doing “good work” as they make sure other white people earn competitive salaries, with annual raises and promotions.

Black and brown people need advance degrees to do the same job that the sons and daughters of white executives get through nepotism and cronyism without any or limited experience or credentials… sound familiar?

Poor people are big business and it’s getting bigger as the pandemic continues.

Conclusion

I started with Earl — I’ll end with Earl:

Many questions, no answers, stress
Try to hold my head and remember that I’m blessed
With the curse and it gets worse as time goes by…DMX, Stop Being Greedy, 1998

So the next time you ride by a “bad” neighborhood, know that several people are invested and profiting off and from economic injustice and systemic racism… And there are wonderful, hardworking, talented people like me. It’s time to change this — I don’t know how, but I’m doing my part by telling our stories so people can’t say they didn’t know…

Thank you for reading.

Writer, Founder WEOC and Editor of Writers and Editors of Color Mag Bylines in Zora, Momentum, An Injustice!, POM, Illumination, The Pink, and Better Marketing

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