Memphis, Tennessee: A portrait of inequality and social crisis in the southern US
Jimmy Smith and Naomi Spencer
13 June 2018
Memphis, Tennessee bears the dubious distinction of being number one in child poverty among large cities in the United States. In 2017, a staggering 44.7 percent of children were officially living in poverty, up from 44.1 percent in 2016. Prior to the onset of the Great Recession a decade ago, the city’s child poverty rate stood at 26.7 percent.
In Memphis and the surrounding Shelby County area, approximately 55,000 kids live in households where they may not get enough to eat, have a stable place to sleep, or have access to essentials like running water, electricity, or transportation.
This is a burden that drags on their health and learning ability, much research has shown. Poverty on such a mass scale reverberates across generations in the form of lack of education, elevated crime rates and other social ills.
Memphis, population 652,000, has long been a city stricken with poverty and inequality. It has regularly ranked among the worst in the nation for child poverty and other metrics of public health. Yet, its ills bear similarity to those plaguing once heavily industrialized cities across the US like Baltimore, Detroit, or St. Louis.
Located along the Mississippi River in far western Tennessee, Memphis is a vital shipping and logistics hub in the central southern US. The city has long served as a critical nexus for air, water, ground and rail transport, with hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods shipped through the city each year. Memphis International Airport is the world’s second busiest cargo airport after Hong Kong, according to Airports Council International rankings.
As a major logistics hub, many warehousing companies are…