WSW: Tackling Hopelessness Amid Poverty

Apr 2, 2015

Cochran-Africatown USA Bridge Over the Mobile River
Credit Chris Pruitt/Wikimedia Commons

University of Alabama Professor Emeritus John Bolland sent his students out into the poorest areas of Mobile, Alabama and nearby Pritchard for 15 years. They found young people were facing more than a lack of resources, they also had almost no hope things would get better. 


Bolland will speak about the survey and how expectations shape what he calls "a youth underclass" on Tuesday April 7th at Western Michigan University. It begins at 7:30 in the Putney Auditorium at the Fetzer Center

Bolland says the survey showed a lack of connection for people in poverty. He says children who had experienced a disruption in their life were more likely to feel hopeless. Bolland says Census figures showed that the neighborhoods they surveyed were among the poorest in the United States. 

President Obama's election in 2008 may have changed the outlook for many of the youth, most of whom are African-American or mixed-race. Bolland says the results showed a reduction in hopelessness and an improvement in self-worth, and that the youth felt better about their futures. 

Asked about public policy changes, Bolland says focusing on individual people can only do so much. He says if people live in a dangerous neighborhood they are more likely to take measures, such as carrying a gun, to protect themselves. Bolland says it's important to change the environment that people live in if their behavior is going to change. 

Bolland says students who helped conduct the survey learned about the complexities of  poverty. He says that included the many different causes of poverty and the lack of simple solutions. "I would tell the students that if they knew less about poverty when they went home than they did when they came, that it would be an entirely successful experience." Bolland wrote about the students work and breaking down simplistic views of poverty