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President Barack Obama on announced on Jan. 9 the first five Promise Zones, part of a White House initiative to combat income inequality and spur mobility in areas that have been slow to recover economically.
The five communities selected — in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and around the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — will receive comprehensive assistance from multiple federal agencies, with the goal of creating jobs, expanding educational opportunities, increasing access to affordable housing and improving public safety. Within the next three years, a total of 20 zones will be selected to receive assistance.
San Antonio’s crime rate is well above the nation’s average, with 89 murders, 492 rapes and more than 59,000 thefts in 2011. Obama has designated the city’s Eastside as one of the first promise zones, with plans to boost safety and focus on education.
“In the Eastside neighborhood of San Antonio, nearly 4 in 10 adults don’t have a high school diploma. The violent-crime rate is 50 percent higher than the rest of the city. So schools and community members are focused on getting more kids into pre-K, boosting math and science in high school, and they’re putting more cops on foot patrol to make their neighborhoods safer. It’s a project worth investing in.”
Although Los Angeles is the most populous city in California, with 3.7 million people — and the second most populous in the country after New York City — its neighborhoods chosen as a Promise Zone are struggling to hold on to their residents. By focusing on this struggling part of LA, Obama hopes to turn it into an ideal place to reside.
“In a section of LA that stretches from Pico-Union to Hollywood, the population decreased by 13,000 people in just 10 years. So developers are working to build more affordable housing. Technical schools and community colleges are helping more people get the training they need to get jobs. It’s a project worth investing in.”
Despite Philadelphia’s having a gross urban domestic product of $388 billion — fourth among the nation’s metropolises — the city suffers from high unemployment (11 percent) and a high poverty rate (26 percent). The median household income is $16,000 less than the national average. Philadelphia has a high crime rate (676 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2011, compared with the national average of 213), with West Philadelphia one of the more violent areas.
“In Philly, nearly 4 out of every 10 kids live below the poverty line, and a lot of them are on the West Side of the city. So a local university is helping connect middle and high school students with mentors to get them ready for college. You’ve got a supermarket that’s being planned that will create jobs and provide healthy food where there’s been too little of both. We’re going to invest in that.” — President Barack Obama
The unemployment rates in the eight rural Kentucky counties (Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley) chosen as a Promise Zone range from 10 percent to almost 17 percent, well above the 7 percent national rate. The counties’ poverty levels are all higher than the U.S. average, with Knox County having the highest, at 36 percent.
“In Sen. Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, there are communities that have been struggling for decades with shutdowns and layoffs. So they’re taking steps, locally initiated, to attract new businesses and create new jobs in new industries. You’ve got a local college that’s stepping up to expand technical training and help more kids get a higher education.”
For the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, the median household income is $29,000. That’s $24,000 below the nation’s average. Its poverty level is high, with almost 10 percentage points higher than the U.S. average.
“And in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, where up to half of the residents in some areas live in poverty, community leaders are determined to change things. And they’re making financing available to help women start their own businesses. They’re investing in new water and sewer systems that will make the area more attractive for companies looking to locate there. And they’re helping farmers and ranchers create more jobs, and more families thereby get access to healthy foods.”
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