Chicago, America’s third largest city, is a case study in urban poverty.
Chicago contains ten of the nation’s sixteen poorest neighborhoods, according to Roosevelt University urbanologist Pierre DeVise. One half of all children in the city are poor.
The past two years have seen a dramatic increase in poverty and its effects. One of these “effects” is hunger.
Malnutrition and hunger are evident. The Mayor’s Task Force on Hunger reported in October, 1984 that up to 50% of the infants of poor women studied at Chicago hospitals suffered from iron deficiency, caused by inadequate nutrition, which can lead to permanent behavioral and neurological disorders.
Dr. Katherine Christoffel of The Children’s Memorial Hospital told me her hospital has documented sixteen cases of marasmus and kwasiorkor, which are starvation-related diseases, in the past four years. Generally these Third World diseases are not looked for. “If we kept good records, we would probably be shocked,” she said.
Infant mortality is high. Dr. Howard Levi, Head of Pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital, believes infant mortality in Chicago’s west side ghetto rivals that of Third World countries.
Another “effect” of poverty is violence. Dr. Levi and his staff have been tracking child abuse cases. “Poverty and stress are significant contributors to abuse–but,” he cautioned, “it’s not cause and effect, not an exact equation. But these variables impact on it greatly.”
Gang violence on the west side has reached epidemic proportions. I was told by nuns and social workers at Merillac House, a Catholic settlement house, that food is used as much as drugs and money to lure teenagers to join gangs.
In addition there is the problem of teenage pregnancy. The black community is hardest hit by this phenomenon. Merillac House has girls as young as 11 and 12 in its prenatal program.
I focused on Chicago’s predominantly black west side ghetto. But poverty in Chicago is not limited to minorities. As steel mills and other industrial plants close down, long term unemployment is becoming increasingly common to Chicago’s “Eastern European” ethnic, Irish, and other white neighborhoods.
©1985 Stephen Shames
Stephen Shames, a photographer with Visions photo agency, is photographing child poverty in America.