MARCH 21, 1960
NEW YORK—I have just received some rather startling and even shocking material on a crisis which faces the cities of our nation as a result of the deteriorating slum conditions that exist almost everywhere. I think all of us should become more aware of this crisis than we seem to be at present.
New York City alone, for example, has 7,000 acres of slums, with some of the worst areas in Harlem. If the density of the population of Harlem were applied throughout the city, all the people of the United States would be housed in Manhattan!
Various factors have contributed to the worsening of slum conditions in our cities. Those who can afford to get away from the big cities, for example, move to the suburbs, and in recent years the greatest migration throughout our country has been of this kind. The result is that the city dwellers who are left behind are more and more going to be predominantly in the low-income group. And of this group, the larger proportion are non-white.
Washington, D. C. is already more than 50 percent non-white. In six years the Los Angeles non-white population increased 45 percent, while the white population increased only 12 percent. New York's non-white population is up 41 percent as against a six percent increase in its white population.
Hence the slum problem is becoming one of the really serious problems of the U. S., and it had better be faced by all city dwellers. What it means is that we have to modernize all of our cities, and the best place to start is with the slums. Today we have 22 million slum dwellers in our cities as against 20 million farmers. Our Federal expenditure per farm family is $3,000 per year as against $84 spent on the slum family. Again, studies just completed in the public schools of Atlanta show that students from the slums perform 30 percent below their natural capacity, compared with those from average homes. In other words, squalor seems to slow down their natural abilities and talents, and it is hard to teach children who are hungry, cold and poorly clad.
America has more than five million people in slums with gross incomes of less than $2,000 a year. Since most of this is used for food, clothing and medicine, they cannot afford to pay the rent which private capital would require to provide adequate shelter. The only answer yet found is to build public housing for the low income groups. But to this one constantly hears the reply: "There is no money in housing the poorest people well; there is money in housing them ill." Slum landlords therefore continue to take a 30 percent return on slum housing. As a result, taxes will go up in cities because the poorer people remaining need more public services.
It is time we faced this whole problem squarely. We will get poorer and poorer citizens unless we change the housing in which they spend their childhood, and this can only be done by clearing out the slums of our big cities. The health of the future city dwellers and the health of our whole country depends on providing young people with an environment in which they can grow instead of deteriorating.