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We just need to be willing to see it, writes George Chidi.
In the summer of 1967, four doctors and Georgia photographer Al Clayton toured the rural South and Atlanta to document the shacks the country’s poor called home and the meager diets they consumed. Struck by the group’s testimony later that year, Congress would go on to pass the Food Stamp Act.
The richest Atlanta households earn almost 20 times more than the city’s poorest residents: $288,159 compared to $14,988.
I wish I could say that last week’s Brookings Institution report stating that Atlanta has the highest income disparity of any big U.S. city was a surprise. But it wasn’t. As I read through the details of the analysis—which compares the ratio of the city’s top earners to those in the lowest fifth of household incomes—I couldn’t shake a particular mental image: a drive that I have made dozens of times in recent months while reporting a story for next month’s issue of the magazine.
You don’t have to be a statistician or policy analyst to understand that there’s a huge gap between Atlanta’s haves and haves-not. Just walk down Edgewood Avenue on any given evening, where you will find one group of people sleeping on the sidewalks of the Downtown Connector underpass and another paying $20 for parking spots in an empty lot near a bar called Church.
Back in 2012, after Atlanta bested thirteen other cities in a contest to house 100 homeless veterans in 100 days, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city would do even better in 2013 by helping 800 chronically homeless Atlantans—a significant percentage of whom are veterans—move into permanent homes by the end of the year. As of late September, the [Unsheltered No More Initiative] was on its way to meeting that goal, with 700 people moved off the street.