Neighborhood Change, 1970 to 2010 – Transition and Growth in Urban High Poverty Neighborhoods

Source: Joseph Cortright, Dillon Mahmoudi, Impresa Inc., May 2014

This paper analyzes changes in high poverty urban neighborhoods in the nation’s large metropolitan areas between 1970 and 2010. Using census tract data to track neighborhood performance, and defining high poverty as neighborhoods with a poverty rate of greater than 30 percent, this paper finds:
∙ About 1,100 census tracts in urban neighborhoods in the nation’s large metropolitan areas had poverty rates in excess of 30 percent in 1970. These tracts had a population of 5 million, of which nearly 2 million were poor.
∙ High poverty was persistent in these neighborhoods. Four decades later, 750 of these tracts—home to about three-quarters of the 1970 high poverty neighborhood population—still had rates of poverty in excess of 30 percent.
∙ Though poverty persisted, these high poverty neighborhoods were not stable—in the aggregate they lost population, with chronic high poverty neighborhoods losing 40 percent of their population by 2010.
∙ Only a few 1970 high poverty neighborhoods experienced a significant economic rebound, defined here as a previously high poverty neighborhood that sees its poverty rate decline to less than 15 percent in 2010. About 100 of the 1,100 high poverty census tracts, accounting for about 5 percent of the 1970 high poverty neighborhood population, saw poverty rates decline to below the national average. And in contrast to chronically high poverty neighborhoods these rebounding neighborhoods recorded an aggregate 30 percent increase in population.
∙ High poverty neighborhoods spread widely between 1970 and 2010. The number of high poverty neighborhoods in the core of metropolitan areas has tripled, and their population has doubled in the past four decades. A majority of the increase in high poverty neighborhoods has been accounted for by “falling stars” places that in 1970 had poverty rates below 15 percent, but which today have poverty rates in excess of 30 percent.
∙ The data presented here suggest an “up or out” dynamic for high poverty areas. A few places have gentrified, experienced a reduction in poverty, and generated net population growth. But those areas that don’t rebound don’t remain stable: they deteriorate, losing population, and overwhelmingly remaining high poverty….