Economic Inequality, Poverty, and Park and Recreation Delivery


  • David Scott


Poverty, economic inequality, leisure constraints, equity


This paper explores the nature of economic inequality in the United States and its implications for the delivery of park and recreation resources to poorer Americans. The first part of this paper shows that economic wealth and poverty are increasingly concentrated, resulting in persistent poverty among segments of the U.S. population. Growing economic inequality over the last 35 years is linked to the weakening of trade unions, the loss of high paying manufacturing jobs, declining tax rates levied on wealthy Americans, the erosion of unemployment benefits and public spending on social services, the loss of public sector jobs, and a scaling back of progressive government policies that have historically benefited poorer Americans. Growing economic inequality has led to the rise of an underclass, primarily minority, which is stuck in poverty. In the second part of the paper, six ideas are presented about how to better serve poorer Americans. Public parks and recreation leaders are encouraged first to develop positive relationships with influential allies when advocating for improved leisure service delivery. A related strategy is to work with allies to improve accessibility of park and recreation resources. Redressing access inequities may be couched as environmental justice and civil rights issues. A third strategy is to offer leisure education programs that include basic instruction associated with different recreation activities. The key here is provide poorer Americans formative experience in leisure activities; many of these experiences are taken for granted by more affluent Americans. Another tactic is to increase safety so that poorer Americans are more likely to access parks and community facilities. A fifth course of action is to ensure poorer Americans are made to feel welcome when visiting recreation areas. Principles of inclusion must permeate all levels of the organization so that every citizen feels welcome. A final and obvious consideration in these economically challenging times is to make services affordable. Professionals associated with recreation and parks and their allies must proactively work to change how agencies currently operate and implement inclusive systems and strategies to ensure that leisure services are available to all Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status.



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