Walter Russell Mead has a way of putting big problems into perspective. Here he is on American cities:
After the Medicare/Medicaid catastrophe the single greatest policy failure of modern America is urban policy. Since the Great Society era of Lyndon Johnson, the country has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into poor urban neighborhoods. The violence and crime generated in these neighborhoods costs hundreds of billions more. And after all this time, all this money and all this energy, the inner city populations are worse off than before. There is more drug addiction and more social and family breakdown among this population than when the Great Society was launched. Incarceration rates have risen to levels that shock the world (though they make for safer streets); the inner city abortion rate has reached levels that must surely appall even the most resolute pro-choicers not on the Planned Parenthood payroll. Forty percent of all pregnancies in New York end in abortion, with higher rates among Blacks; nationally, the rate among Blacks is three times the rate among white women. Put it all together and you have a holocaust of youth and hope on a scale hard to match.
This is not a lot to show for almost fifty years of fighting poverty - not a lot of bang for the buck.
We need to do better. The state of the American inner city is an unacceptable human tragedy, and the costs in money spent and prosperity forfeited create an unsustainable drag on the national economy at a time when we need all the help we can get.