A Capitol city, yet poor: Poverty in Lansing

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Comparisons of midwest capitol city unemployment and poverty rates. Click on graphic to expand. Graphic by Tyler Austin. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

By Tyler Austin
Listen Up, Lansing staff reporter

The Greater Lansing area is home to many great things; the monumental Capitol building, a Big Ten university, and Potter Park Zoo, among other attractions. But it also has the title for one of the poorest populations among Midwestern state capitols.

Lansing has one of the highest unemployment rates and poverty rates of the Midwestern capitals, according to the 2012 census.

The Census found Greater Lansing had the highest rates of unemployment (around 10 percent) and poverty (in excess of 15 percent) when compared to the capitols of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

In addition to having such a high level of poverty, the area is known by locals for being rather unwelcoming.

One former resident of the Lansing area has no shame in advising the people she meets against visiting her former home. Apolonia Rosas is a native to the city of Lansing, growing up not too far from the Capitol Building but now resides in a neighboring area.

“I usually tell people to avoid going over there,” Rosas said, “that (Lansing) is a pretty rough area.”

The few blocks that directly surround the Capitol are nice, clean and well-kept. The area is filled with locally-owned businesses and official government buildings. But going beyond the more touristy spots there are some areas that aren’t as well kept. Take a stroll a few blocks into Lansing and it’s various neighborhoods and you’ll be hit with abandoned houses, rocky roads and panhandlers.

One Lansing resident, Martha Kaser, expresses her distaste for the area.

“I hate living here,” says Kaser. “I like my house and yard and everything … but there’s freakin’ drug busts going on like down the street from me.”

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The Rule of the three circles as explained by Raymond Jussaume.

This isn’t the only case of poorer neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area of a city. Chairperson of the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University, Raymond Jussaume calls it the “rule of the three circles,” where there is a large circle with a smaller circle inside of it and another circle inside of that.

The innermost circle is the downtown area with tourist attractions and is usually a more expensive place to live. The middle circle is filled with poverty and racial segregation. The outermost circle is where it picks back up and tends to be where most of the wealthier people in the area reside, Jussaume said.

Not all cities are like this but other places like Flint, Detroit, and Boston are other examples of this system. Jussaume also said that many people seem to be quick to judge the area without taking all things into consideration.

“People see unkept lawns but don’t think ‘maybe they can’t afford a lawnmower’” said Jussaume. “The CATA building (downtown bus transfer center) is one example (of a rougher area) but people who can’t afford their own transportation are obviously going to be in that area,” he said.

The people of the Lansing area seem to be trying to turn things around though.

“There are these community gardens in certain areas to help some of the people,” Jussaume said. “To help people who maybe can’t afford to go grocery shopping all the time, grow their own food.”

Here we have a map of some of the local gardens that are scattered across the area.

Although the community is making attempts within itself to better the area and help the people in it. Poverty and homelessness are still issues that plague the Lansing area.

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