Then there is the intense concentration of poverty, the issue that keeps me up at night. While 14.9 percent of the U.S. population was below the poverty line in 2010, a quarter of all poor Americans lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates above 20 percent. These “poverty areas” are, as a general rule, disconnected from employment opportunities and high-quality educational options, and their inhabitants suffer from disproportionately high rates of violent crime and incarceration. The result is that the legitimacy of American institutions—the criminal justice system in particular, but other institutions as well—is on shaky ground in these parts of the country, as they seem to be rigged against those who live in them. There is no danger that America’s poor neighborhoods will secede from the United States. The real problem is that the rest of us have, in a cultural and spiritual sense, seceded from these neighborhoods.
So as we celebrate the United States, let’s remember the forgotten corners of this country, where the promise of American life has yet to be fulfilled.