Purdue News

September 9, 2005

Prof examines factors affecting 'Cost of Being Poor' in urban areas

Sandra Barnes

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Many rust belt cities are turning to casinos to stimulate their economies, and a Purdue University urban sociologist is looking at how this investment in the tourism industry will affect people living in poor urban neighborhoods.

"Rust belt cities – such as Detroit and Flint in Michigan and Gary, Ind. – suffer because the primary industry, such as steel, is no longer driving the local economy," says Sandra Barnes, an assistant professor in sociology and African American studies. "Using casinos and tourism as a way to bring money back to the communities is an option, but we know very little about how casinos affect people in these cities, especially poor people in urban areas."

Barnes is focusing on casinos in Gary, which have been mandated to provide money for community activities.

"For example, even though a casino is in an urban area, many of its employees may be from the suburbs or another outside area," she says. "And in most cases, profits are shared with the state and county rather than being totally returned to benefit the inner city. We need to know how such dynamics affect the quality of life of residents – especially the poor."

Barnes begins to address this issue in her recent book "The Cost of Being Poor: A Comparative Study of Life in Poor Urban Neighborhoods in Gary, Indiana." The book ($24.95 paperback and $84.50 hardback) was published in July by State University of New York Press. In the book, she examines census and local data, and interviews families in and around Gary about their experiences providing for their families.

In 2002 the national poverty threshold was $14,348 for a family of three and $18,392 for a family of four, and about 40 percent of people living in poverty were employed. Barnes says many rust belt cities share similar poverty levels. For example, in Detroit, Gary and Flint, more than 20 percent of the families and more than 25 percent of individuals live below the poverty level, Barnes says.

"Being poor, as well as working class, is a challenge for anyone, but residents in urban areas must often contend with an absence of large grocery stores and retailers in their neighborhoods that provide alternatives to feed and clothe their families," Barnes says. "When industry leaves urban areas, many businesses follow. Often, these resources relocate to the suburbs.

"The people in my study also were extremely resourceful in how they adapted, as well as fed and clothed their families. For example, many of them traveled to suburban areas where they were the minority and were not always treated favorably because of racial dynamics."

Findings from Barnes' book also dispel many existing stereotypes and myths about life in urban spaces such as Gary.

"One of the most common myths is that poor people and racial and ethnic minorities do not work hard, but that is not true," Barnes says. "Again, many people living in poverty maintain full-time jobs, and living in an urban area can create even more of a disadvantage."

Barnes, who grew up in Gary, earned a doctorate in sociology from Georgia State University in 1999. She has two master's degrees – one in operations research from Georgia Institute of Technology and a second in the sociology of religion from the Interdenominational Theological Center. Her bachelor's degree is in mathematics and economics from Fisk University in Nashville. Before entering academia, Barnes was employed as an engineer, a statistician and consultant in the business arena.

On Sept. 9, 2004, she presented findings based on her research and teaching on health care, sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Afro-descendent communities as part of a panel on "Sex, Sexuality, Taboos, Myths and Relationships" at the Congressional National Black Caucus in Washington, D.C.

Support for Barnes' work is from the College of Liberal Arts Development Fund, Purdue Research Fund, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the African American Studies and Research Center. Her study on casinos is funded by a Faculty Development Incentive Grant from the Purdue Alumni Association.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Sandra Barnes, (765) 496-2226, barness@cla.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in review copies of the book can contact Trisha Smith at the State University of New York Press at (518) 472-5006, Trisha.Smith@sunypress.edu.


To the News Service home page

Newsroom Search Newsroom home Newsroom Archive