What is a Ghetto: Defining Features and Characteristics of a Widely Debated Concept
New York University
I have devised a definition of what a so-called “ghetto” encompasses as features that ultimately promotes a cross-cultural stereotype of who and what is considered a ghetto. Utilizing census data from the year 2000, I have compared three well-known “ghetto” areas in the Bronx to one well-known “nice” area also within the Bronx. As proposed in my definition, “Ghetto” areas had more prevalence of high poverty and unemployment rates, high levels of social isolation between races, had mostly uneducated residents with children dropping out of school at high rates, and had a higher prevalence and occurrence of crime then their “nice” neighborhood counterpart.
Key Words: Ghetto, Poverty, Social Isolation, Education, Crime,
What is a Ghetto: Defining Features and Characteristics of a Widely Debated Concept
There have been many articles questioning the many uses of the concept “the ghetto” (Small, symposium on the ghetto) to theorize different conditions such as areas exclusively inhabited by members of one group (Jargowsky, 1994), any neighborhood with a high concentration of poverty (Wilson, 1987), or areas that have remained segregated from past migrations (Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 1997). For other scholars, however, the ghetto is not merely a neighborhood that crosses a demographic threshold, but is a foundation that is affected by higher-level meso and macro-level institutions (Wacquant, 1997). Conceptualizations of the ghetto vary from researcher to researcher, but most academics tend to agree upon core features of the “ghetto” such as: a “ghetto’ is a specific type of neighborhood that has a defining set of characteristics, such as sub-standard housing, high crime rates, relocation of its once indigenous white population (Rose, 1970), and social isolation between races. Researchers also note that these features are topographies that reappear from city to city and are not location subjective.
The classic “ghetto” is affected directly and indirectly by either the governing society or more often the case, the state; and it is instrumental in establishing a form of involuntary segregation (Marcuse, 1997). Wilson (1997) states that there is a new type of poverty in this nations cities, one that is marked by poor, segregated neighborhoods in which the majority of the adult population is either unemployed or have dropped out of the work force all together. Other researchers agree that due to societal pressures many minority groups opt to live in same race neighborhoods that are inhabited by familiar people and where they feel they belong (Borjas, 1998). While Morrill feels that minorities deal with these pressures by living in areas with similar races to establish their dominance, researchers agree that minorities are nevertheless isolated from main stream society and are similar to outcasts or caged wild animals that are often segregated from the rest of the population. Encompassing these different definitions of what a “ghetto” is, along with personal experience from living in the Bronx most of my life, I have devised my own definition:
“A ghetto is a predominately minority inhabited, poverty stricken, and socially isolated area that is marked by inadequate and substandard housing, lack of employment opportunities, lack of educational attainment, and high rates of crime.”
For this study I am utilizing census data for the year 2000 for four neighborhoods within Bronx County, three that are synonymous with the “ghetto” label such as the Mott Haven; Hunts Point; and East Tremont sections of the Bronx, and one that is well known to Bronx inhabitants to be a “nice” neighborhood; the Riverdale section of the Bronx. To determine if each neighborhood fits my devised definition of a “ghetto” or not, I have partitioned my analysis to include four encompassing categories that are in tune with my “ghetto” definition. Category 1: To represent an area that is poverty stricken and has a lack of employment, I utilized census data that stated the percent of the population that was below poverty level aged 18 to 64 and also data of the population that was 18 years old and up that was unemployed. Category 2: To represent an area that is socially isolated, I utilized census data that stated the total population and data that divided the total population by race.
Category 3: To represent an area that has a lack of educational attainment, I utilized census data that stated the percent of the total population that was 25 years old and up that had less than a high school diploma and data of the total population that was 16 to 19 years of age that have dropped out of school. Category 4: To represent an area that had high crime rates, I utilized annual precinct report data for the year 2001 which was presented by the office of the chief of departments on the NYC.GOV website. Mott Haven is patrolled by the 40th precinct; Hunts Point by the 41st precinct; East Tremont by the 48th precinct; and Riverdale by the 50th precinct. In determining high rates of crime I included the crimes of murder; Rape; Robbery; Assault; and Burglary.
To fit my devised definition of a “ghetto” each section of the Bronx that has been labeled as being representative of a “ghetto” (Mott Haven, Hunts Point, and East Tremont) should have high poverty and unemployment rates for category 1, a high minority population and low white population for category 2, a high percentage of the population with less than a high school diploma and high drop out rates for category 3, and finally have high rates of crime compared to a non- “ghetto” area for category 4. An area that is deemed a “nice” neighborhood (Riverdale) should have low rates of poverty and unemployment for category 1; have a high population of white inhabitants and a low population of minority inhabitants for category 2; have a low amount of the population with less than a high school diploma and low drop out rates for category 3; and have low crime rates compared to “ghetto” areas for category 4.
Census 2000 Data Analysis
Poverty and unemployment Rates
Mott Haven encompasses census tracts 17, 39, 41, and 43 in Bronx County and statistics for each tract has been compiled to determine the percent of the population below poverty level and the percent of the population that is unemployed. Tract 17 was determined to have 56% of its population below the poverty line, well above the threshold determined by Wilson (1987) of 40% which would identify a neighborhood as a “ghetto”, and had an unemployment rate of 48% of its population being unemployed. Tract 39 had 59% of its total population living below the poverty line and had 45% of its population being unemployed. Tract 41 had 60% of its population living below the poverty line and 50% of its population unemployed. Finally tract 43 also had 60% of its population living below the poverty line and 42% of its population that was unemployed.
Hunts Point encompasses census tracts 91, 97, and 99 in Bronx County. Tract 91 had 33% of its total population living below the poverty line and 25% of its population being unemployed. Tract 97 had 50% of its population living below the poverty line and 55% of its population unemployed. Tract 99 had 60% of its population living below the poverty line and had 48% of its total population unemployed.
East Tremont encompasses census tracts 371 and 373 in Bronx County. Tract 371 had 59% of its population living below the poverty line and had 49% of its population unemployed. While tract 373 had 60% of its population living below the poverty line and 41% of its population unemployed.
Riverdale encompasses census tract 317 in Bronx County. Tract 317 had only 4% of its total population living below the poverty line and had a 0% unemployment rate among its population.
Social Isolation within the “Ghetto”
“The residential and social segregation of whites from blacks creates a socialization process we refer to as “white habitus.” This white habitus limits whites’ chances for developing meaningful relationships with blacks and other minorities spatially and psychologically” (Bonilla-Silva & Embrick, 2007).
The trend of whites moving out of their traditional neighborhoods once minority groups start moving in has a devastating affect on the community. Whites, once they leave, take with them much of the resources and businesses that allowed the community to thrive. Without these resources and social capital, minority groups find themselves socially and financially isolated with little options to promote a better quality of life for themselves and their families. Following this line of thinking I have included social isolation into my devised definition of what a “ghetto” is and I have utilized census data for the year 2000 to determine if a so-called “ghetto” area was primarily populated by minorities and had a void or minimal population of white residents. I did this by compiling statistics for total population of an area and partitioned that number by race.
In Mott Haven, Tract 17 had a total population of 1006 residents and among those residents; 21% were white; 32% were black; and 42% were Hispanic. Tract 39 had a total population of 6022 residents with 27% being white; 23% being black; and 41% of Hispanic heritage. Tract 41 had a total population of 5240 residents with 22% white; 30% black; and 40% Hispanic. Tract 43 had a total population of 4784 residents with 24% being white; 25% black; and 45% Hispanic.
In Hunts Point, tract 91 had a total population of 81 residents in which 57% were white; 3% was black; and 38% was Hispanic. Tract 97 had a total population of 133 residents with 27% being white; 35% black; and 30% Hispanic. Tract 99 had a total population of 5317 residents in which 21% were white; 37% were black; and 41% was Hispanic.
East Tremont, tract 371 had a total population of 4305 residents with 17% being white; 45% black; and 38% Hispanic. Tract 373 had a total population of 4900 residents of which 15% was white; 42% were black; and 38% was of Hispanic heritage.
Riverdale, Tract 317 had a total population of 1047 residents. Among these residents 97% of the population declared themselves as being white; 2% of the population was black; and .8% of the population declared themselves as Hispanic.
Lack of Educational Attainment
It is well known that people with higher levels of education have been linked to higher paying jobs, access to more financial and social capital, have better health outcomes, and have children that more often attend colleges and universities. With this fact in mind I have included lack of educational attainment as a feature that defines a “ghetto” and that is so often viewed as one of the barriers that limit “ghetto” inhabitants from advancing their lives. For this category I have utilized census data from the year 2000 and have included educational attainment rates for the total population of each tract who was 25 years old or older and have also included statistics for drop out rates of children aged 16 to 19.
In Mott Haven, Tract 17 had 45% of its 25 yr old + population having less than a high school diploma and 8% of its 16 to 19 population who have dropped out of school. Tract 39 had 63% of its population not having at least a high school diploma and 16% of its population have dropped out of school. Tract 41 had 62% of its population without a high school diploma and 27% of its population who have dropped out of school. Tract 45 had 55% of its population without at least a high school diploma and 13% of its youth have dropped out of school.
Hunts Point, tract 91 had 81% of its 25 + population having less than a high school diploma and 7% of its 16 to 19 population having dropped out of school. Tract 97 had 20% of its population not having at least a high school diploma and 2% of its youth population having dropped out of school. Tract 99 had 54% of its 25 + population not having at least a high school diploma and 20% of its 16 to 19 population have dropped out of school.
East Tremont, Tract 371 had 44% of its population 25 + not having at least a high school education and 11% of its high school aged children have dropped out. Tract 373 had 47% of its population with less than a high school education and 10% of its 16 to 19 aged children who have dropped out of school.
Riverdale, tract 317 had less than 11% of its population aged 25 + who had less than a high school education and had a 0% drop out rate among its children aged 16 to 19.
Neighborhood Crime Rates
Violence and crime have always been one of the major defining features of what people visualize as a “ghetto”. The type of place where graffiti is present on most buildings, drugs are being sold on the corner, doors must be locked at all times, and the type of place that you definitely avoid walking through at night time for fear of your safety. For this common portrayal of the urban “ghetto” I have included into this analysis annual crime statistics retrieved from the office of the chief of departments from the NYC.Gov website that are reported by all precincts within all boroughs in New York City. I have encompassed the crimes of murder, rape, robbery, assault, and burglary to be representative of major crimes that can, and often are perceived as rampant in “ghetto” areas, be found in areas of high poverty and low organizational and social control. These statistics are representative of the neighborhoods and the local precincts that patrol those neighborhoods and are limited to actual arrests and reported crimes occurring in 2001.
Mott Haven is patrolled by the 40th precinct and had a total of 2120 crimes reported and committed for that year. There were 27 murders, 1% of total crime, 46 rapes, 2% of total crime, 577 robberies, 27% of total crime, 488 assaults, 25% of total crime, and 317 burglaries, 20% of the total crime rate for that year.
Hunts Point is patrolled by the 41st precinct and had a total of 1897 crimes reported and committed for that year. 12 murders, .7% of total crime, 18 rapes, 1% of total crime, 239 robberies, 20% of total crime, 548 assaults, 48% of total crime, and 224 burglaries, representing 20% of total crime committed and reported that year.
East Tremont is patrolled by the 48th precinct and had a total of 1929 crimes committed and reported for that year. 13 murders, .7% of total crime, 36 rapes, 2% of total crime, 421 robberies, 23% of total crime, 430 assaults, 24% of total crime, 431 burglaries, which is 24% of the total crimes committed that year.
Riverdale is patrolled by the 50th precinct and had a total of 985 crimes reported and committed for that year. 2 murders, less than .1% of total crime, 7 rapes, .3% of total crime, 99 robberies, 9% of total crime, 146 assaults, 11% of total crime, and 357 burglaries, 30% of total crime committed or reported that year.
Categorical Results and Discussion
For category 1, which displayed and compared below poverty rates and unemployment rates by census tract, I found that my definition of what type of area is considered a “ghetto” was in fact accurate in describing the poverty rates and unemployment rates that are synonymous with “ghetto” neighborhoods. All four-census tracts that comprise the Mott Haven section of the Bronx had more than 40% of their total population living below the poverty line and most tracts had poverty rates into the 50 and 60% level. Two of the three census tracts that comprise the Hunts Point section of the Bronx had total population poverty rates into the 50 and 60% range with the third tract being close to 40%. Both census tracts that comprise the East Tremont section of the Bronx had total population poverty rates nearing or at the 60% range and all census tracts, with the exception of one in Hunts Point, had unemployment rates that exceeded 40% of the total population in each respective tract.
As for my comparison non-ghetto neighborhood of Riverdale, this area had a less than 4% of its total population living below the poverty line and had a 0% unemployment rate among its population. Category 2, which displayed total population divided by race to represent social isolation between groups, had high percentages of minority groups living separately from white groups within “ghetto” neighborhoods and minimal amounts of minority groups living within “nice” neighborhoods. Mott Haven had a 74% minority make up of its total population; Hunts Point had 72% of its population being minority; and East Tremont had 84% of its population that were of minority status. Riverdale showed a similar trend but reversed. Riverdale had a 97% majority of white residents keeping it minority population down for a total of 3%.
Category 3, lack of educational attainment within the “ghetto”, showed that the “ghetto” labeled areas of Mott Haven, Hunts Point, and East Tremont had more than 40% of its total population within each census tract having less than a high school education with some tracts climbing into the 80% of total population range. Among high school children within these “ghetto” areas, at least 10% of all these children have dropped out of high school with some tracts reaching 20%. As for Riverdale, its total population had less than 14% that had less than a high school education as well as a 0% drop out rate among its high school aged children.
Category 4, crime rates within each area, showed that among the “ghetto” labeled areas, that there was an average of 2000 total committed and reported crimes for that year compared to the less than 1000 crimes committed and reported in Riverdale. Among these crimes compared to Riverdale, Mott Haven had 130% more murders, Hunts Point 60% more murders, and East Tremont 62% more murders. For Rape, Mott Haven had 30% more rapes, Hunts Point had 7% more rapes, and East Tremont had 23% more rapes. For robbery, Mott Haven had 30% more robberies, Hunts Point had 15% more robberies, and East Tremont had 22% more robberies. For assault, Motts Haven had 40% more assaults, Hunts Point had 48% more assaults, and East Tremont had 32% more assaults. And for burglaries, Mott Haven had 11% more burglaries, Hunts Point had 15% less burglaries, and East Tremont had 5% more robberies than Riverdale.
This current study has supplied evidence that my devised definition of what a “ghetto” is and is not is accurate and holds true despite the comparison of four different neighborhoods encompassing 10 different census tracts. From this analysis I have concluded that “ghetto” areas have features that include a high amount of its population living below the poverty line and a large amount of its population being unemployed. “Ghetto” areas are largely populated with minority groups with little to no white populations remaining as a part of these communities. This study has also shown that a high proportion of the “ghetto” population in these areas have less than a high school education and that their children are dropping out of school at an alarming rate and before they graduate. Finally the crime rates in “ghetto” areas are more prevalent and occur with more frequency than their “nice” neighborhood counterparts.
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