The Community Affairs Office of the Federal Reserve System and the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution released on October 24 an in-depth study of concentrated poverty in 16 high-poverty communities, where poverty rates exceed 40%. The communities range from Cleveland, OH, to El Paso, TX, to Holmes County, MI, and the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.
The study concludes that these quite different communities face common obstacles relating to insufficient quality and diversity of housing as well as under-performing schools, low marketable labor skills, low economic mobility and lack of commercial investment. In order to bolster these communities, a two–fold approach must be taken, not only helping the poor families with programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Head Start, and food stamps, but by addressing the problems of the communities themselves.
In the study, the concentration of poverty is linked to factors such as de-industrialization, the flight of middle-class households to the suburbs, and increased rates of single parenthood and welfare receipt. In particular, the study finds that housing policies have served to concentrate poverty in many cities. The deliberate siting of public housing in poor minority neighborhoods that lack direct access to transportation and jobs have contributed to concentrated poverty. In addition, the federal government’s failure in the mid-20th century to insure mortgages in inner-city neighborhoods and the failure of private-sector lenders to extend credit isolated these communities. As seen on Native American reservations, concentrated poverty also exists in rural areas, in part because of their isolation from infrastructure bases.
Between 1970 and 1990 the number of poor people living in high-poverty neighborhoods nearly doubled, from 1.9 million to 3.7 million. Since individual poverty rates did not increase substantially in the same period this difference demonstrates a significant geographic concentration of poor people over the two decades, a finding that has touched off a range of research activity around its causes and implications. The in-depth studies in this report were undertaken after Hurricane Katrina, which exposed the extent to which poverty remains concentrated today, as a way to develop a more complete understanding of the relationships between concentrated poverty and communities.
The report, The Enduring Challenge of Concentrated Poverty in America, can be found here: www.frbsf.org/cpreport/