Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back When the Party of Lincoln Was Popular in Philadelphia

Lisa Levenstein. A Movement Without Marches: African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Many of the New Deal programs in Philadelphia involving welfare and public housing were used, in the 1950s and 1960s, by African Americna women. African American women were about 26% of Philadelphia’s population in the early 1960s, yet they were over 85% of Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) recipients, over half of public housing tenants, public school students, Philadelphia General Hospital patients, and municipal court plaintiffs. There was no deliberate movement for African American women to obtain these benefits, even though the result was a mass movement of participation.

Much has been analyzed about the high unemployment and economic disparity that African Amercan males experienced. African American women experienced both racial and gender discrimination . In addition, they had higher rates of domestic violence victimization, health problems at younger ages, and child care issues.

The public programs did not allow most African American women to escape poverty. Thus, these programs both helped them while continuing their humiliation of remaining in poverty.

In 1945, the population of Philadelphia was 15% foreign born and 13% African American. In 1960, it was 9% foreign born and 26% African American.

In Philadelphia in 1960, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 11% and for whites was 5%. There was a disparity in employment, with 42% of African Americans working in common labor, service employment, and as domestics.

In the 1940s, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Armstong Association (later known as the Urban League) convinced Bell Telephone to hire African Americans. The city government agency Commission on Human Relations worked to prevent employment discrimination. In the 1950s, it convinced several large employers such as the Pennsylvania Railroad to hire more African Americans. A civil rights group 400 Ministers led by Rev. Leon Sullivan convinced 300 employers to hire more African Americans. Several do so under the threat of boycott.

The public sector increasingly became open to employing African Americans. Philadelphia adopted one of the first Employment Practices in 1948. Liberal reform and civil rights groups grew in prominence in the 1950s. Many African Americans helped elect Joseph Clark as Mayor, While Clark diminished patronage, he did open exams and applications in a nondiscriminatory basis that led to hiring more African Americans. In particular, these public sector jobs paid better and offered benefits such as health care that traditional employment available to African Americans did not offer. While higher income jobs remained mostly with white employees, some African Americans were able to achieve upward mobility to rise to obtain them.

Still, African American women with multiple problems, such as escaping abusive homes while raising children, faced huge struggles. Some churches helped. Even among churches, it is noted that women were a majority at attendees while men dominated in the church hierarchies.

There was no overall system to help people in need. Among the various services African American women sought, the author notes they found the Philadelphia General Hospital as “generous and respectful”, public schools as “inflexible and unresponsive”, the Welfare Department as the “stingiest” and/or municipal courts as “demeaning”.

The author notes that domestic violence and court programs gavem women upper hands in marital difficulties. This had the result of many men reducing their roles in or often leaving the marriage and child upbringing. This left many women raising children in poverty. This happened often regardless of race.

Welfare helped many single women raise their families. Women sued for child support and for protection for domestic abuse. Court actions in the 1950s often forced women to choose between remaining in a violent household or obtaining welfare. Public housing provided residences to people who couldn’t afford housing. Yet these units deteriorated rapidly. African American women generally viewed education as important for their children. Yet they often found principals and teachers as unresponsive to their concerns. Health care, though, was accessible at Philadelphia General.

Women receiving welfare were not legally allowed to live with employable males under the assumption that the men should, or was secretly, providing financial support. Thus, many women lived alone in order to continuing receiving welfare benefits. This helped increase the number of children living with the stigma of not having a father or father figure around.

Jane Kronick studied a random sample of Philadelphia African American women on welfare from 1959 to 1962. Kronick found that women knew the stigma facing them of having “illegitimate children” and living in “poverty”. They also strongly supported education for their children.

In 1960, 22% of African American children and 2% of while children were born out of wedlock.

When welfare was created in 1935, it was based upon the Mothers’ Assistance grants that were in some states over the previous three decades or less. Most recipients were white and may were immigrants. Unemployment compensation and old age pensions also mostly helped whites.

The Mothers’ Assistance program in Pennsylvania became the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) in 1937. Two thirds of the funds were from the state government and one thirds was from the Federal government. There were then far fewer Federal requirements on how the funds could be used. The Philadelphia Department of Public Assistance switched many African American women from the state funded General Assistance to ADC, which used some Federal funds. By 1940, 62% of Philadelphia ADC enrollees were African American women and children. In the early 1960s, over 85% of ADC enrollees were African Americans.

Many Southern states restricted African Americans from their social programs. Some had employment or suitable housing requirements. Philadelphia had a one year residency requirement. The author notes when New York and Rhode Island eliminated their residency requirements, there was no large movement of people to those states to obtain benefits. Most African Americans moved from the Southern USA to the North in hopes of finding employment, not welfare.

Many women on welfare could work but they did not have the resources to pay for child care. Two thirds claimed to be chronically ill and unable to work. Almost half, in the early 1960s, had two or more children below school age plus four or more children total. Half claimed at least one claimed at least one child with chronic difficulties.

A study by Leonard Savitz concluded that racial prejudice existed in each point of the justice system. This helps explain why, in 1950, 18% of Philadelphia’s population and 40% of its prison population were African American.

The welfare application process was a challenging endeavor to many. Applicants who did not own phones were forced to spend hours on pay phones. The lines at the offices were often busy and long. Being poor often meant walking long distances, while bringing children along, to a scheduled welfare office appointment were the waits still were long. It was noted the chairs were “uncomfortable”. A lot of documents were required, such as rent payment records, leases, birth certificates, social security cards, bank statements, pay stubs, separation agreements, hospital records, etc. Lacking all needed documents would require making another appointment. The author suggests this was all deliberate in attempts to reduce the number of people receiving benefits.

The welfare stipends awarded by the Pennsylvania legislature in the 1950s were just above a subsistence living level. The legislature traditionally cut funds that welfare administrators requested. By the 1960s, a welfare stipend was estimated at being about two thirds of a minimum standard of living. Many welfare recipients had trouble paying their rents.

In 1956, over half of public housing was deemed substandard and one quarter was deemed hazardous to safety and health by the Philadelphia Housing Association. Many public housing units lacked proper heat and plumbing and had bug and rat infestations.

There was at least one family member with health problems in 89% of ADC families. It was sometimes difficult for a welfare recipient to find a doctor who see them without charge and then submit for reimbursement to a local professional committee.

ADC caseworkers in Philadelphia had caseloads usually in the 120 to 200 clients range. They lacked sufficient time to visit often and provide advice on problems, as had been the caseworker model under the Mothers’ Association program. Most AFC caseworkers could focus primarily on seeking for fraud. The caseworker position had a high turnover rate.

In 192, a welfare fraud investigation by the Attorney General’s office found fraud was “extremely rare”. This did not stop the press nor some political leaders from declaring that fraud was more extensive. Two Philadelphia newspapers, the Inquirer and the Evening Bulletin, printed articles declaring that welfare led to illegitimate children. The Bulletin wrote of the “drunken wench…paid more for each hapless offspring.” This helped enrage whites who felt their taxes were supporting “promiscuous unfit mothers”. This stigma also helped discourage some whites from accepting welfare, which further helped keep the primary recipients of welfare as being African Americans.

Even some African Americans who were not welfare recipients spoke out against welfare. They did not appreciate the stigma others assumed attached to them.

Municipal court judges in Philadelphia in the 1950s were white males. They had little identification with the African American community. Judges separated cases involving family support from cases involved protection from abuse into two separate cases. They ignored the link between the two and often forced women to pursue one case over the other.

Men complained the courts nearly always ruled in favor of the women in support cases, even when they argued they weren’t the father of the children. African American men were mostly law wage earners and they found support payments burdensome. In 1959, 463 males were imprisoned in Philadelphia for not paying support. Women note this further hurt them, as a man in prison could not provide any support. Almost 7,000 women in the 1950s went to court over a man not paying support. Several women went to court over support payments from 5 to 15 times.

A woman’s ADC support was reduced by the amount in a court ordered support payment. This amount was reduced whether or not the woman received the support payment.

Many women disliked the interview process before going to court and they often disliked the comments made by judges. Judges and others often blamed juvenile delinquency on mothers. Many women felt uncomfortable in court.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority responded to problem of the high costs of purchasing land and construction, along with a need to quickly find housing for many people, by building high rises. Wilson Park, which was built for mostly white tenants, was eight stories high with a child care center, recreation area, and a well baby clinic. Raymond Rosen, built primarily for African Americans, was 13 stories high with a day care and a play area. From 1838 to 1956, 16 other public housing projects were built. All but one, Tasker, were at least 82% of more one race of the other. The housing projects were Federally funded yet were operated and constructed by city governments who issued low rate bonds. The Federal government subsidized the loan payments on those bonds. Rents were supposed to raise funds to pay for operation expenses and improvements.

Many political leaders fought the construction of public housing in their neighborhood, except for some liberal organizations. The NAACP fought for scattered site housing, yet did so only verbally with the PHA Executive Director Walter Alessandroni.

Many African American women found problems entering public housing. An unmarried women with a child was not allowed to live in public housing until Community Legal Services won a lawsuit allowing them to do so in 1968.

In the 1960s, most middle income families paid under 20% of their incomes in rent. A low income person on average spent over 35% of income in rent. A person in public housing spent around 20% to 25% of income in rent.

A Sen. Harry Byrd amendment to the Wagner-Steagall Act in 1937 limited funding for public housing construction costs. These limits failed to build enough public housing to meet demand. It is estimated that about one quarter of Philadelphians requiring public housing in 1957 received it.

Funds were limited for public housing upkeep. Tenants had o pay for things like faulty toilets. Public housing tenants were not happy with the deterioration of their units.

Richard Allen Homes was home to 6,100, of which 3,000 were children. It was reportedly in good shape for five years after it opened. A sense of community pride kept tenants working on upkeep. Over time, public areas and the outside landscaping deteriorated. PHA admitted it lacked enough funds for proper maintenance.

As the African American population increased, more white children began attending private and parochial schools. African Americans were 21% of the Philadelphia public school body in 1945 and 51% in 1962.

Schools meant for African American students were built with smaller windows and at less cost. One school consisted of 12 portable classrooms.

Schools offered different tracks of instruction which varied significantly according to economic and racial background. Thus, African Americans were less prepared for better employment from public schools. In 1963, 46% of white students and 24% of African American students were in the higher level academic curriculum.

In 1949, the school dropout rate was 52% for African American males, 35% for African American females, 25% for white males, and 17% for white females. African Americans were more apt to believe that school was not preparing them for their futures.

Teachers, as well as some academic studies then, concluded that African American students tended to be “slow learners” who were contributing to a “tragic deterioration” of public schools. Teachers were often unfamiliar with dealing with African American females who thus often loss faith in those teaching their children.

Mayor Joseph Clark supported provided Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH) with sufficient funds for its operations. While few African Americans were employed there, PGH was most supported by the African American community. In the early 1960s, 4 of every 1,000 white went to PGH while 235 of every 1,000 African American went to PGH.

PGH especially served African American women. 53% of PGH patients in 1955 were African Amercan. 93% of its maternity, 82% of its children’s patients, and 81% of its gynecological patients were African American.


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