Obama’s Promise Zones: Only one is majority-Black

Freddie Allen | 6/12/2014, 8:29 p.m.
Despite the disproportionate impact of poverty found in African American communities, only one of President Barack Obama’s “Promise Zones,” is ...
President Barack Obama Associated Press

Philadelphia, which is about 43 percent Black and nearly 37 percent White, is the only majority-Black Promise Zone selected in the first round.

“In Philadelphia, nearly 4 out of every 10 kids live below the poverty line, with many living in the city’s struggling West Philadelphia area. In the area’s Mantua neighborhood specifically, only around 40 percent of adults have a high school diploma, and there are high youth crime rates,” the report stated.

Some would argue that the need for increased federal aid is just as great in the other four Promise Zones.

“San Antonio’s Eastside neighborhood is a predominately Latino and African American community, where nearly 4 in 10 adults do not have high school diplomas and the violent-crime rate is 50 percent higher than the rest of the city,” according to the report.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, an economic development firm created during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, reported that the poverty rate in majority White Southeastern Kentucky is around 30 percent.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma also suffers poverty rates that are much higher than the national average.

“Although the poverty rate for those living in the Choctaw Nation is nearly 23 percent, some communities within the zone are far higher. Nine of the census tracts designated as part of the Choctaw zone have poverty rates exceeding 30 percent, with one as high as 52.8 percent,” the report said.

The report offered a number of recommendations to accelerate the efforts of Obama’s Promise Zones initiative, including cutting taxes for businesses that invest in the zones, awarding planning grants to help designees build capacity for current programs, and encouraging community and regional partnerships with anchor institutions like colleges and universities.

The report also suggested using current social mobility research that looks at family structure, segregation and social capital to help design goals targeted specifically to the needs of the communities where the plans will be implemented.

“The goal of the initiative is not only to transform the selected zones but also to change how the federal government works with local communities,” the report said. “By utilizing place-based strategies that leverage the federal government’s continued investment in keeping families out of poverty, we can ensure that our country lives up to its promise of being the land of opportunity.”