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Charleston’s tourism industry fosters Urban Ghettos

Lee Walton

There’s an old cliché in socioeconomic theory that “The best family value is a good job” which strikes directly at the cruelest unintended consequences of low-wage minority employment in Charleston’s tourism and hospitality industry. The profound lack of quality, long-term employment opportunities in the tourism industry for urban minorities, particularly for black males, has created working conditions insufficient for the support of a family without a combination of welfare, subsidized housing, and other forms of public largesse. The less than symbiotic relationship that exists between the downtown tourism industry and the Peninsula’s low-wage, unskilled minority workforce needed to fuel the economic engine of the Lowcountry continues to foster untenable conditions for Charleston’s minority families.

Charleston’s continued reliance upon a modern-day plantation economy to fuel its ever-expanding tourism industry over the past four decades has directly contributed to the crumbling of minority family structure, the meteoric rise of single parent, predominately matriarchal, families and soaring out-of-wedlock birth rates. Few would argue that there has been a profound weakening of the black family structure due to the fundamental lack of equal employment opportunities for urban minorities. Once trapped in low-wage tourism industry employment, minorities are often forced to seek affordable housing within one of the too-many public housing projects located on the Peninsula where high unemployment, drugs, and high crime rates proliferate. Charleston’s Urban Ghettos have become the crucible for transfer of the cycle of poverty and despair to successive generations, albeit with even greater dependency upon unskilled low-wage tourism employment.

Higher quality employment for black males in Charleston’s tourism industry is essential to their own sense of self-worth, personal confidence and success as faithful husbands and dependable fathers. If the City of Charleston is to remain dependent upon tourism as its main source of employment, it must improve the wages and working conditions of those who literally do the “heavy lifting”. It is imperative that the City and the tourism industry reverse the current socioeconomic conditions that have delegated generations of minorities to nothing more than day laborers.

The importance of a stable two-parent family environment in the black community was recognized as an essential element forty-five years ago to that era’s War on Poverty when Assistant Secretary of Labor Patrick Moynihan stated that “The richest inheritance any child can have is a stable, loving, disciplined family life.” Nothing’s changed but the years on the calendar.

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