Time and time again we listen and read about the same ongoing problems that the American people face. One of the biggest dilemmas in not only the US but all over the world is poverty. Some governments establish institutions that enable those who cannot afford to rent themselves a home or buy food, to relieve their sleepless nights and hunger. The United States of America does indeed provide food stamps and housing to some of those homeless in the country, but beyond that, the government does not do much to help these people break their generational cycle of poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau, the poverty rate in America in 2017 was 12.3 percent; a lot of those 40,061,100 people living below the poverty line will never experience life beyond what they know and live; in other words, their economic situation will never dramatically improve. A main factor that attributes to this everlasting life in poverty is the neighborhoods and environments where these working-class people live. The neighborhoods, many times consist of racial and ethnic minorities like blacks and immigrants but also house many whites. They are filled with persistent crime that affects the youth’s development and sometimes prevents the children from achieving the American Dream. “Exposure to high levels of crime and violence has been found in observational studies to further exacerbate behavior problems during adolescence” (Santiago, 173). This ongoing crime that surrounds children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, affects their behavior and development in adolescence and adulthood.
The reason for high crime rates in poor neighborhoods is the result of a myriad of obstacles that these people face on a daily basis. Working-class people are limited in their resources of food and other life necessities and desires, as a result, many children and adults relieve this pain by stealing from those around them. Which leads directly to the next point: children of working-class families carry a gigantic weight of stress on their shoulders. Almost everyone can attest to this: many times, when young adults experience anxiety and pressure they turn to the most common short-term relivers which are drugs and alcohol (Santiago, 172).
However, there are so many downsides of such actions. First and foremost, drugs and alcohol provide no long-term benefits, they even cause potential harm to those using or consuming them. Nonetheless, the child taking advantage of these relievers do not consider the disadvantages of such strong and harmful substances. Second, most if not all of the users are under the legal drinking age of 21 and they use illegal drugs, which are both against federal and state law. If caught participating in either act he/she may get fined or incarcerated. In many middle- and upper-class neighborhoods cops may be more lenient about these behaviors but in working class neighborhoods, where crime rates are through the roof, the police are constantly on the lookout for illegal undertakings, such as underage drinking and drug use. An additional barrier that working class neighborhoods confront is the lack of gadgets and institutions available to children (Santiago, 173). For example, the use of iPad and television is not readily available to children living in such conditions. The result of this sad truth is that children occupy themselves in different ways that are based in criminal behavior like formulating plans to steal or taking drugs and drinking. All of these stumbling blocks result in crime which obstructs children’s pathways to success.
When proving that children’s development and success is attributed to high crime rate neighborhoods, there must be longitudinal research to back up such painstaking true assertions. Jay MacLeod is brilliant in his intensive research— which is documented in his book “Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood”— of children growing up in a housing project in Clarendon Heights. He performed this longitudinal study by first getting close to two sets of teens friend groups who grow up in Clarendon Heights. MacLeod does not only interview these boys asking them about their lives, but he involves himself in their daily activities and routines. He even lives in the projects for a year just observing these boys and trying to understand the life they live. He leaves to begin his own life, only to comeback eight years later to see what the boys are up to, and then once again when the men are in there 40s or so.
He introduces the two different friend groups of boys: the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. He analyzes the two contrasting groups in an effort to prove how living in poverty, regardless of aspirations, family background, and school work, affects the children’s outcomes. A significant distinction between the two is that the Hallway Hangers are primarily white while the Brothers consists of majority black boys. At first glance, one would assume that the Brothers would have a much harder time navigating their lives and fulfilling the American Dream due to all the impediment that stand in the way of poor, black youth. However, their lives actually turn out relatively better than those of the Hallway Hangers. MacLeod attributes these results to the boys’ families and aspirations that arise from living in each of those specific families. Nonetheless, all but one of the boys from both groups end up within the middle to lower class spectrum, by working in real estate. This says something noteworthy about the neighborhood and environment in which these boys grow up in and how it obstructs their successes later in life.
Let’s begin by analyzing the Hallway Hangers, who either end up dead, imprisoned or working low level jobs with an income well below minimum age. These boys admire toughness and the thrill of behaving badly, like committing crimes and taking drugs and alcohol. MacLeod clearly depicts these values, as he writes, “Frankie, the acknowledged leader of the Hallway Hangers, is only of medium height and weight, but his fighting ability is unsurpassed among teenagers in Clarendon Heights” (MacLeod, 26). As a result of such attitudes, their lives continue on a downward spiral, with some even hitting rock bottom, which includes going to jail and not being able to recover from such an experience economically or socially/physically. These boys’ crime involvement from young leads directly to their eventual gloomy future.
Clarendon Heights forces the Hallway Hangers into this future filled with violence, drug abuse, and alcohol. From as young as infancy, these boys are surrounded by violence and unacceptable behavior because of the circumstances and environment they live in. Shorty, one of the boys, witnessed his father becoming an alcoholic, and his brother having to drop out of school to support the family going in and out of jobs, while his other brother sold marijuana to receive some money just to survive (53). Being surrounded by this sort of aggression is especially dangerous due to an act that children complete called imitation, where they model the behavior of those closest to them. Albert Bandura, a well-known psychologist, proves this through experimentations. He instructs a parent to hit a bobo doll aggressively and allows the child to watch these violent actions from a window. After the child finishes analyzing their parent carrying out this behavior, they automatically assume it as acceptable and begin hitting that exact bobo doll when they are placed in the room (Bandura, 208).
Bandura’s proof of imitation is precisely what causes the Hallway Hangers to end up in their negative situations. Bandura writes in his article, “The Role of Imitation in Personality Development,” that “personality patterns are primarily acquired through the child’s active imitation of parental attitudes” (Bandura, 207). Parents, however, are not the only ones that cause for imitation in a child, rather it’s those the child is around constantly and perceives as his models. Such models are created through the community in which the child lives (Santiago, 172). Examples include: a teacher, a sibling, an uncle, a priest, a parent of a friend, and so on. In the case of aggression, Bandura writes, “exposure to aggressive models heightens children’s aggressive responses to subsequent frustrations” (Bandura, 208). The Hallway Hangers are in constant stress and frustration which stems from their living situations and the lack of resources they possess. Seeing that they’re always worried, and those in their neighborhood express this stress through crimes, they turn to violence and drugs and alcohol for support and anger management.
Eight years later, when MacLeod goes to check up on the Hallway Hangers, he finds them in low level jobs, still committing violent acts whether it be against blacks or women. One of the boys— who are now really men—Steve, has “been in and out of prison five times over the past seven years, mostly for violating restraining orders and beating his girlfriend”
(MacLeod, 158). Once violence is so common in a person’s personality due to its constant exposure, it becomes second nature to the person, making it very hard to turn back, and that is precisely what happened to Steve. Some of the Hallway Hangers, like Slick eventually realized the danger of crime and so they weaned off of it in the search for some jobs, but their criminal records never vanish; as a result, getting a job other than a blue-collar one is difficult for these men. Many, at this point in their lives, can only acquire “’under the table”’ jobs (MacLeod, 163). Six out of the seven Hallway Hangers receive money that’s off the books making it completely illegal, so even when they’re working, they are still committing economic theft (MacLeod, 163). Overall, their lifestyle has not improved tremendously, and they still struggle to maintain a steady and secure job. Although, they are older now and are more mature in a sense, they still have trouble becoming socially and economically competent because of the behavioral problems that continue to reside within them, because of the crime they surrounded themselves with when they were younger.
When MacLeod goes back for a last time, he sees the desolate lives of some of the Hallways Hangers, and somewhat improved lives of the others. One of them, Boo-Boo, died of AIDS in 1994 (MacLeod, 275). Some are incarcerated, like Chris (MacLeod, 328). However, there are some better endings, like Slick who obtains a middle-class job of roofing. Stoney and Jinx both enjoy their jobs even though they are lower-class jobs. Many of them have children which have shaped them for the better, like with Shorty, the birth of his son forced him to take on so many responsibilities like changing his diapers (MacLeod, 303). Although Shorty and his wife separated and now, and he can only see his son once a week, others have stable relationships with women which help them stay afloat. For example, Stoney mentioned, “how his music and his wife now keep him on an even keel” (MacLeod, 317). The rest had either been in prison or unemployed. Unfortunately, they’re behavior toward crime and drug abuse has, for the most part, not changed. Jinx says to MacLeod, “Still gotta have my weed. That’s one thing that ain’t change” (MacLeod, 292). For this reason alone, the Hallway Hangers have hard time finding employers who trust them and believe they’ll overcome their experience in crime or drug/alcohol addiction.
After much analysis of the Hallway Hangers, the Brothers, who were more of a success story must be evaluated as well. While the Hallway Hangers do not value school, going to school and learning is a big part of the brothers’ lives. They invest their time and energy into schoolwork and listen to what those in the school tells them. The Brothers want to adhere to social norms and behavior principles (MacLeod, 45). At this point in their lives, not one of the brothers involve themselves with drugs, alcohol, and crime; unlike the Hallway Hangers who are constantly in and out of jail, the Brothers have never been arrested (MacLeod, 45). Sports is extremely prevalent in the childhood of these children. Craig, who moved to Clarendon Heights six years before MacLeod began his research, is a star on varsity basketball; Super, another one of the Brothers, is an exceptional athlete and dominates both the basketball court and the football field (MacLeod, 45). Regardless of their athletic ability, each and every brother yearns to have a reputation that they are proud of and believe will get them far in life (MacLeod, 47). As for families, the parents of the brothers are stricter than those of the Hallway Hangers, and many of them, like Craig’s are “tightly knit” (MacLeod, 45). The parents assert authority over their kids and make sure their children aspire to become greater than they are then.
Jay MacLeod visits these brothers eight years later and records their lives once again. Most of them have a hard time acquiring anything other than lower-class jobs. A good example of a Brother with this unfortunate outcome is Mokey, who had a total of 12 jobs in seven years, a few include: working with his father as a janitor, busting tables at a restaurant, delivering pizzas, working as a counselor in a youth enrichment program. Mike, on the other hand, has a higher paying salary in a more prestigious job, and even could afford to buy himself a Mazda Sports car (MacLeod, 208). Some brothers, like Dereck don’t make so much money but they enjoy their jobs (MacLeod, 203). The Brothers lives at this point in time, is still not perfect, most of them still cannot find a decent paying job, and some even begin to involve themselves with drugs/alcohol, things they would have never touched in their childhood.
Another 15 years or so later, and MacLeod pops in on the Brothers once again. Unfortunately, four of the Brothers had taken up drinking, which is a result of their early exposure to drinking. This is a direct proof of violence and alcohol/drugs affecting a child’s development whether it’s brought about early or later in life. Super, began drug dealing because he says, “I seen a lotta people making fast money. I was hanging around with a lotta guys, okaying ball, and they started. I wanted to try it out, see how it’ll work out” (MacLeod, 363). He even ended up impregnating a woman during his time selling drugs, and he has this constant fear that one day he will end up in jail. Super explains how he also did not have friends and people to trust because of the risky business he was in. Juan, who ends up as a mechanic but lost his license years ago, also began drinking at age 21 and was arrested and attempted suicide in jail (MacLeod, 382). On a happier note, at the age of 40 he is engaged and has five children, and even manages to buy a house. Craig, however, is “estranged from his family and living out West” (MacLeod, 275). Mike, ends up in real estate and says that a lot of his success has to do with his “parental support” (MacLeod, 370).
The only way the outcomes that these men had encountered can be explained is through the child’s development. Sigmund Freud, a famous psychoanalytic psychologist, says that childhood experiences are the basis for our adult life. Regardless of whether the men participated in crime in their youth, the violence around them still influences their behavior and thoughts. The risk they encounter is poverty which in essence means community violence, and that sets them up for failure, or positive adaptation. In comparison between those who would be called a success— has a healthy relationship with a woman/kids, does not participate in violence, and makes a secure salary legally— and those who failed—dealing drugs, incarcerated, or job hopping— is that those who succeeded had strong and present relationships. Like Suniya Luther says, “Relationships lie at the roots of resilience.” Then one can ask the question why did only one of these men climb way up the social ladder into higher middle class/lower upper-class status? That is because, despite the relationships and resilience these men still had a constant exposure to crime which led to their social and emotional incompetence in life. And if, “competence begets competence” then the opposite must be accurate as well (Masten and Wright). We must say that nurture, plays a huge role in the development in children. Nurture is provided by families, schools, friends, and neighborhood. All of these factors affect the results of one’s eventual future.
BANDURA, ALBERT. “THE ROLE OF IMITATION IN PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT.” The Journal of
Nursery Education, vol. 18, no. 3, 1963, pp. 207–215. JSTOR, JSTOR,
MacLeod, Jay. Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood. Routledge, 2018.
Masten, A. S., & Wright, M. O’D. (2009). Resilience over the lifespan: Developmental
perspectives on resistance, recovery, and transformation. New York: Guilford Press.
Santiago , Anna Maria, et al. How Living in the ‘Hood Affects Risky Behaviors Among Latino and African American Youth. Russell Sage Foundation , 21 Nov. 2018, 16:35
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