Poverty consolidated and spread to the suburbs during the 2000s, report finds


Share of Suburban Poor Living in High Poverty or Distressed Neighborhoods, 2008-12. (Brookings)

Poverty is concentrating and spreading, according to a new Brookings Institution report.

The report, which uses neighborhood-level Census data to track changes in the poor population between 2000 and the 2008 to 2012 period covering the Great Recession and its aftermath, finds that poverty increasingly concentrated, imposing what author Elizabeth Kneebone described as “double burden” on the poor.

“The challenges of poor neighborhoods — including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities — make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations,” she writes. “… This trend indicates that an increased share of poor individuals today face the ‘double burden’ of not only their own poverty, but also the disadvantages of those around them.”

The analysis charts a rise in the number of “distressed neighborhoods” or those where the poverty rate is at or above 40 percent. Kneebone finds the number of such areas and their population rose by about three fourths. And not only did the number of such high-poverty neighborhoods rise, but so too did the share of the nation’s poor living in them. In 2000, 9.1 percent of the poor lived in neighborhoods with such concentrated poverty. By the end of the decade, 12.2 percent lived in distressed neighborhoods, with all the negative consequences associated with such living.

“Various researchers have found that living in communities with a large concentration of people in poverty adds burdens to low-income families,” the Census Bureau noted in a report on poverty last month. “Problems associated with living in poverty areas, such as higher crime rates, poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities, are exacerbated when poor families live clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

That report found that roughly 1 in 4 Americans live in communities with poverty rates at or above 20 percent, a lower cutoff than Kneebone’s. The South, as the census map below shows, saw some of the biggest increases in people living in such areas from 2000 to 2010.


Change in people living in poverty areas from 2000 to 2010. (Census Bureau)

Using a similar 20 percent cutoff, Kneebone found that while concentrated poverty is still largely a big-city problem it’s increasingly becoming a suburban one, too. The share of the suburban poor living in “high-poverty neighborhoods”—those where at least 1 in 5 are poor — grew from 27 percent to 38 percent. In other words, concentrated poverty in the suburbs rose by 11 points over the decade, as the chart below shows.

The share of the suburban poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods. (Brookings)
The share of the suburban poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods. (Brookings)

Southern suburbs saw some of the largest increases in concentrated poverty, with large increases in such neighborhoods in the suburbs of the Winston-Salem, N.C., Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., Greenville, S.C., and Atlanta metropolitan areas. While the concentration of suburban poverty worsened in most of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, a few saw declines in concentrated poverty. Those were El Paso, Tex., Baton Rouge, La., Jackson, Miss., McAllen, Tex., Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., and Harrisburg, Pa.

The analysis also finds that the character of such high-poverty suburban neighborhoods changed, too. Homeownership rates were higher, teens were dropping out of high school less and men were working more. Such populations were also more white than before, though still disproportionately minority.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.

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