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Maps: A fourth of Americans live in poor neighborhoods


(Census Bureau)

A fourth of all Americans live in what the Census Bureau calls “poverty areas,” neighborhoods where at least 1 in 5 have incomes below the poverty level, according to a new report.

The share of people living in these poverty areas grew substantially fell during the 1990s but grew substantially over the first decade of the 2000s. As of 2010, it’s up to 25.7 percent, from 18.1 percent in 2000. (In 1990, it was 20 percent.) And while not all people living in such areas are themselves poor, they find themselves in areas associated with a slew of problems.

“Various researchers have found that living in communities with a large concentration of people in poverty adds burdens to low-income families,” according to the report. “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.”

In other words, live in such poverty areas is different from live in those census tracts where a smaller share of people are earning incomes below the poverty level. As a result, some government assistance programs even allocate more resources to poverty areas, based on the Census Bureau’s definition.

Here’s a look at what the report tells us about the geography of poverty and how it’s changed.

In 14 states, at least 30 percent of residents are living in poverty areas


(Census Bureau)

In Mississippi, nearly half the population —48.5 percent — lives in a poverty area. The same is true for at least 1 in 3 residents in 11 other states. The rate is lowest in New Hampshire, where just 6.8 percent of residents live in poverty areas.

The share of people living in poverty areas grew in 46 states


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

Just four states saw the rate of residents living in poverty areas decline over the first decade of the 2000’s.

  • Louisiana’s decline was largest: The rate shrank by 3.6 percentage points, to a still-high 37.5 percent living in poverty areas.
  • West Virginia’s rate shrank by 2.3 points, to 31.3 percent living in such areas.
  • Hawaii’s shrank a point to 11.9 percent.
  • Alaska’s shrank 0.4 points to 7.8 percent.

In every other state, the share of residents living in poverty grew. North Carolina saw the biggest expansion, with 31.8 percent living in poverty areas in 2010, up from 14 percent in 2000. The map below shows that change for each state. Those with the darkest shading saw rates of people living in poverty rise the most.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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