Cities Prosperity Has Passed by President Clinton Is Touring Small and Mid-Size Cities to Encourage New

By Abraham McLaughlin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor and | The Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Cities Prosperity Has Passed by President Clinton Is Touring Small and Mid-Size Cities to Encourage New


Abraham McLaughlin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor and, The Christian Science Monitor


The news from America's cities in recent years has been almost unbelievably good: fast-falling crime rates, center-city revivals, yuppies and empty-nesters moving back into downtowns.

But in fact, the nation's turbocharged economy has roared right past a whole group of cities - especially smaller ones.

Places like Buffalo, N.Y., and Gary, Ind., and Pine Bluff, Ark., and Yuma, Ariz., still struggle with unemployment, high poverty rates, and an exodus of residents. There is, however, a growing momentum to help. There are new ideas, including a theory gaining credence that even poverty-laced neighborhoods can be thriving economic centers - if only businesses will take the risk of locating there. And there's some new political will: President Clinton recently began taking business executives on tours of poor neighborhoods to try to get them to invest there. It comes down to a feeling that now, in this era of plenty, is the time to tackle the nation's most-intractable poverty - and try to include everyone in the age's prosperity. The persistently troubled cities "are so different, yet their problems are so much the same," says William Fruth, president of the Jupiter, Fla.-based Policom Corp., which tracks cities' economic progress. Each year, Policom ranks the nation's cities according to economic prosperity. This year, Pine Bluff, Ark., came in last. Indeed, this old railroad town, perched on the banks of the muddy Arkansas River, is a solid case study in persistent poverty. It is the state's fourth-largest city and sits just 60 miles south of Little Rock - a bigger city that's booming. Some 60 percent of Pine Bluff's residents are black, and it remains highly segregated. For years, agriculture was the city's economic base. Then industry moved in and higher-paying jobs at International Paper Co. and Century Tube lured farmers away from the land. Now, high-tech jobs pull people from Pine Bluff to larger and more-progressive cities. "There aren't any good-paying jobs in this city," says E.J. Ivy, a new high-school graduate. "There's no hope for young people, so we either stay and get minimum-wage jobs or we leave." Indeed, the lack of manufacturing jobs can cause an exodus, which saps tax and business revenues - a problem in many Rust Belt cities. Many manufacturing jobs have moved overseas or out of center cities, so "there just aren't enough manufacturing companies to go around," says Policom's Mr. Fruth, "and they're some of the best jobs to have in this economy." AS manufacturing has disappeared, some cities have seen dramatic population loss. Gary, Ind., was once a thriving steel town, but it lost 27 percent of its residents between 1980 and 1996. Meanwhile, a population problem of another kind is plaguing some cities in the Southwest: With thousands of people moving in, they're growing too fast - and aren't creating enough jobs. …

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