“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay
here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on
high.” (Luke 24:49)
Thirty years ago Gary, Indiana, had a thriving downtown business district with a newly constructed convention center. Its steel mills employed thousands of workers. It had elected the first African American mayor of any major city in the United States. Gary was a city with poverty, to be sure. But Gary was also a city with promise. Today, Gary is overwhelmed with abandoned homes; its business district is essentially abandoned; it has lost tens of thousands of jobs; it is the murder capitol of the nation.1
The metropolitan region of Gary, on the other hand, is thriving. Thousands of new homes have been built, huge shopping malls and commercial developments have been constructed, and tens of thousands of jobs have been created. An economic and racial apartheid is at work. The city of Gary suffers a collapsed economy while the suburban region sees its economy growing. The urban poor of Gary are primarily people of color. The financially privileged suburbanites are primarily white.
Gary is not alone in its experience of metropolitan disparity. An urban underclass exists alongside of suburban prosperity in cities across the United States. The economic disparity generally plays out along racial lines. The conditions would be considered intolerable in any moral society. Family-sustaining jobs have vanished in the neighborhoods of the underclass. Drug trafficking constitutes a main part of the underclass economy. Schools are in near meltdown mode. The housing stock has lost its value. Prisons have become the institution of higher learning for a disturbing percentage of underclass youth. Hopelessness, fear, ill health, survival behavior, dependency, and a continual state of crisis are prevalent.
Cities have always struggled with poverty, but their economic and political clout kept them from being overwhelmed by it. Increasingly,