Background & Introduction To The Assembly


Place matters.

This simple concept has never been better understood than it is today. The American Dream is predicated on the idea that anyone from any place or background can climb to the highest rungs of the economic ladder. But there is a growing body of evidence that the more time an individual spends living in a distressed community—especially at childhood—the worse that individual’s lifetime chances of achieving economic stability or success. And not all poor neighborhoods are alike; some offer vastly better chances of economic mobility than others. The United States is still a land of opportunity for many.

But when it comes to life outcomes, geography is too often destiny.

(Photo and Quote taken from Economic Innovation Group)

Community Distress Index

The Distressed Communities Index (DCI) is a customized dataset created by Economic Innovation Group (EIG) examining economic distress throughout the country and made up of interactive maps, infographics along with a final report. It captures data from more than 25,000 zip codes (those with populations over 500 people). In all, it covers 99 percent — 312 million — of Americans.

The study captures data from more than 25,000 zip codes in those areas with populations over 500. In all, the study covers 99 percent - or 312 million - Americans. It is an attempt to map and analyze the dimensions of basic community well-being across the United States. The higher the score, the greater the distress. The scores range from 0 to 100, moving from dark green in the most prosperous zip codes to dark red in the most distressed ones.

Wealth Disparities

7 Indicators of

Community Well-being and Success

The Distress Community Index calculates distress scores for every level of geography presented here: zip codes, cities, counties, and congressional districts, and tabulates data by states as well. Scores are based on a geography’s combined performance on the seven indicators for community well-being.

Spatial inequality is the unequal amounts of quality resources and services depending on a given location.

According to the 2016 Distressed Community Index (DCI), analyzing poverty by zip code allows for a way of determining spatial inequality, within a higher-level geography. The DCI examined that certain communities have a greater range of resources and services than others. And given that these communities do not live near or associate with the other, it becomes nearly impossible to establish the resources share required for reversing this cycle.

This condition prevents broad, based resource sharing.

The lack of community resources in poorer neighborhoods set into motion a condition commonly referred to as poverty. However, the implications of poverty are far reaching, impacting unseen areas within the community. Left unresolved, these conditions diminish and areas ability to continue to the livelihood of the community. This sets into motion a downward spiral in community continuity.

Law and Order & Crime Generating Factors

Poverty and crime have an intimate relationship that has been described by experts from all fields, from sociologists to economists. The UN and the World Bank both rank crime high on the list of obstacles to a country’s development…Governments trying to deal with the effects of poverty often also have to face the issue of crime as they try to develop their country's economy and society…

Crime prevents businesses from thriving by generating instability and uncertainty (at micro and macroeconomic levels). This is true in markets of all sizes, national, regional, municipal and even (at the) neighborhood (level)…

Starting from the 1970s, studies in the US pointed more and more at the link between unemployment, poverty and crime. After that other connections with income level, time spent at school, quality of neighborhood and education were revealed as well…But most importantly, what reveals the unmistakable connection between poverty and crime is that they’re both geographically concentrated - in a strikingly consistent way. In other words, where you find poverty is also where you find crime.


As community well-being suffers, individuals with little to no alternative for wealthy living turn to alternative measures to secure such wealth. This tie between community well-being and community safety is an important one. As communities become less capable of providing for daily and essential needs of its members , the community deterioration set in. This creates a feedback loop where more and more community members are impacted, then impaired by deteriorating conditions.


These conditions, if left unchecked, transform from being factors for community well-being to crime generating factors - factors which contribute to the advent and continuation of crime within a certain area.

Efforts to address the criminal implications of these deteriorating factors, while ignoring the factors themselves, have led to the widespread incarceration of poor and distressed populations with little to no change in the conditions which created the crime.

There is a long history of criminology research in creating forceful public policy geared to punish criminals for crimes committed rather than addressing the root cause of crime...

The offender punishment and control paradigm that has been the dominant idea of penology since the early 1980s takes as unchallenged the same two ideas that dominated criminological thinking during this century: (1) the proper response to crime requires a focus on coercively doing things to individuals caught by the criminal justice system, and (2) scientific experts can know what is best to do with those offenders. The departure from previous strategies was caused by a third truism which, as we saw, came to be widely accepted: the various strategies for offender change have all been proven widely incapable of reducing crime.

The central assertion of what I refer to as the punishment and control movement was the logical result of these three ideas. The assertion holds that the proper role of corrections is to prevent crime by incapacitating active criminals and deterring potential ones. Thus, the paradigm called for a two-pronged penal agenda: enough punishment to deter potential lawbreakers; enough incarceration to control current ones. Most observers would agree that this is the ascendant paradigm in the United States, today.

- Dr. Todd R. Clear

(Harm in American Penology: Offenders, Victims, and Their Communities)

School-To-Prison Pipeline

The offender punishment and control paradigm, often times, begins at an early stage for those living within marginalized communities.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is committed to challenging what they describe as the "school-to-prison pipeline," a national trend where poor performers are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The ACLU found that many of these children have learning disabilities paired with a history of poverty, abuse or neglect.

ACLU points to "zero-tolerance" policies which criminalize minor infractions of school rules as the source of the system. Paired with in school police officers, the ‘School-to-Prison pipeline criminalizes behavior that should be otherwise handled within the school. Studies indicate that students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.

Poor Schooling

With new data pointing towards the increase in low income students, The trend toward punishment and control and early incarceration is concerning. New methods are needed.

Excerpt from the Southern Education Foundation:

For the first time in recent history, a majority of the school children attending the nation’s public schools come from low income families. The latest data collected from the states by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), evidenced that 51 percent of the students across the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013.

This defining moment in enrollment in public education in the United States comes as a consequence of a steadily growing trend that has persisted over several decades. In 1989, less than 32 percent of the nation’s public-school students were low-income. By 2000, the national rate as compiled and calculated by NCES had increased to over 38 percent. By 2006, the national rate was 42 percent and, after the Great Recession, the rate climbed to 48 percent in 2011.

NCES data shows that in 2012 the rate of low income students was barely below one-half –49.6 percent. In 2013, the rate crossed the threshold of one half so that in 2013 low income students became a new majority in the nation’s public schools.

While found in large proportions throughout the United States, the numbers of low income students attending public schools in the South and in the West, are extraordinarily high. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.

Mental Health


Being poor means coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources. This explains, for example, why poor people who aren’t good with money might also struggle to be good parents. The two problems aren’t unconnected. At the macro level, this means we lost an enormous amount of cognitive ability during the recession. Conversely, going forward, this also means that anti-poverty programs could have a huge benefit that we've never recognized before: Help people become more financially stable, and you also free up their cognitive resources to succeed in all kinds of other ways as well.

Live in poverty for years, or even generations, and its effects grow more treacherous. Live in poverty as a child, and it affects you as an adult, too. Studies have found that poor children, in effect, had more problems regulating their emotions grew into adulthood.

These same patterns of ‘dysregulation’ in the brain have been observed in people with depression, anxiety disorders, aggression and post-traumatic stress disorders. Over the course of the longitudinal study – which included 49 rural, white children of varying incomes – these same poor children were also exposed to prolonged sources of stress like violence and family turmoil, or crowded and poor housing. Those kinds of stressors, the researchers theorize, may help explain the link between class status during childhood and how well the brain functions later in life. This theory, they write, is consistent with the idea that "early experiences of poverty become embedded, setting individuals on lifelong trajectories.

- City Lab,

(The Lasting Impacts of Poverty on the Brain)

Social Implications

The failure to attain these major societal milestones set into motion a chain of physical and psychological events which play a major factor in the overall mental well-being of those being left behind in society. Its been known that poverty cuts off vital resources for those living in impoverished conditions and places them in an environment of ongoing stress. These conditions may have long-lasting effects on overall general wellness, effects which can be difficult to reverse.

German born, American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson proposed a psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial, or ego, development on how individual thought is impacted by social norms. Erickson comprised eight (8) stages from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome on the individual development of the personality.

Examining Erickson’s theory reveals why poverty produces the exact environment which leads to life debilitating stress, as discussed above. Failing to achieve social and societal norms, members of impoverished communities fail to develop a positive and mature sense of self. As a result, a certain mindset takes a hold for many people living in poverty. This place-based phenomenon means going without the vital resources required to mature physically, emotional and mentally.

This places those living in impoverished conditions in an environment where ongoing and traumatic stress scenarios create greater obstacles to the general well-being of the entire community. For many living below the means to remedy their condition these conditions may have lasting effects.

Patterned after Sigmund Freud’s theory on the structure of the personality, Erikson goes further in emphasizing the role of culture and society and the conflicts that can take place within the ego itself. Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order, and builds upon each previous stage.

The outcome of this 'maturation timetable' is a wide and integrated array of life skills and abilities that function together within the autonomous individual. According to Erikson’s theory, the ego develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social in nature, such as establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.

Successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic life skills and virtues, or characteristic strengths, which are used to resolve subsequent crises.



We are a neighborhood and community reinvestment club working together to  grow a vibrant and sustainable world.

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© 2023 by Benjamin Elliott Terry, LLC.
Love, Always