DEFINITION of 'Ghetto'

A ghetto is a run-down urban area primarily inhabited by a single minority group. Ghettos are often characterized by high unemployment, high crime, gang activity, inadequate municipal services, widespread drug use, high rates of dropout from school, broken families and an absence of businesses. As a result, real estate values in ghetto communities are generally much less expensive than in other communities.

BREAKING DOWN 'Ghetto'

Experts may identify ghettos by physical characteristics, such as large numbers of poorly maintained buildings, large amounts of graffiti, trash or debris accumulated in the street or on properties, and weedy vacant lots. Racial zoning laws, mortgage lending discrimination and income disparity contributed to the creation of many ghettos in the United States in the mid-20th century. Those areas still persist into the 2010s.

Inner-City Poverty

In the United States, ghettos referred to inner-city neighborhoods of blacks established after slavery was abolished in the 1860s up until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Because cities intentionally discriminated against this minority group in America, these areas were often poor, run-down and dilapidated. Even after segregation ended, these neighborhoods struggled to gain prosperity because the low property values kept away businesses, schools, infrastructure improvements and transportation.

The U.S. Census calls ghettos extreme poverty areas, or neighborhoods where 40% or more of the people who live there are poor. These types of neighborhoods doubled from the 1970s to 1990. By 1990, one in every 25 Americans lived in an extreme poverty area. Three-fourths of Americans who lived in ghettos resided in central areas of America's 100 largest cities.

Style

In the 2010s, the word "ghetto" may refer to a style of dress, attitude and manners. Ghetto can also refer to something jury-rigged together that may not perform up to standards. Instead of describing poverty, ghetto became a term to indicate something having lower standards. This new term is a far cry from the original term.

Origins of Ghettos

Ghettos originated in Europe in the 13th century when cities in Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal sought to segregate Jewish populations into one area upon the suggestion of Pope Pius V. The word itself could come from several sources. Jews settled into an area of an old iron foundry, or ghetto, in Venice, Italy, in the 14th century. This old foundry was far from impoverished; the Jews who settled there were wealthy merchants. The word could also come from the Greek word "ghetonia," which means "neighborhood," or the Italian "borghetto," which means "small neighborhood."

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish communities decided to settle together as a matter of choice throughout Western Europe after Jews fled persecution in Eastern Europe. During World War II, ghettos turned into impoverished slums when Nazi Germany decided to concentrate a labor force into one area of a conquered city.

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