The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012

Source: Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings Institution, Research Brief, July 31, 2014

The economically turbulent 2000s have redrawn America’s geography of poverty in more ways than one. After two downturns and subsequent recoveries that failed to reach down the economic ladder, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today, more of those residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty.

But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the late 1990s.

Poverty has become more concentrated in high-poverty and disadvantaged neighborhoods.
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. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

This brief updates the 2011 report, The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty, using the latest neighborhood-level poverty data from the American Community Survey for 2008 through 2012, to examine where and how poor populations have shifted at the neighborhood level. The 2008-2012 period captures the peak of the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery that followed, which as of 2012, had yet to translate to declines in the nation’s record-high poor population. These data reveal the extent to which concentrated disadvantage has grown since 2000 in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, and how these trends have played out across city and suburban lines.3 In particular, the brief examines the changing incidence of both distressed neighborhoods, in which at least 40 percent of residents live below poverty, and high-poverty neighborhoods, where at least 20 percent of residents are poor….
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