A new study from the Brookings Institution examines the geographic concentration of poverty across the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The report’s authors find rising numbers of people living in neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty, where poverty rates exceed 40%. After declining in the 1990s, the population of extreme-poverty census tracts rose by one-third over the past decade, erasing the gains of the 1990s and resulting in more poor households crowding into increasingly poor neighborhoods.
Using data from the 1990 and 2000 decennial census along with American Community Survey (ACS) 2005-2009 estimates, the researchers tracked the number of residents in extreme-poverty census tracts, and the share of Americans in poverty living in extreme-poverty census tracts. The study also examined the characteristics of residents living in extreme-poverty census tracts over time. The data were analyzed both at the national level and the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) level.
Nationally, researchers found that by the 2005-2009 period, extreme-poverty neighborhoods were home to 8.7 million Americans, up from 6.6 million in 2000. During this same 2005-2009 period, the proportion of poor Americans living in extreme-poverty census tracts rose from 9.1% 10.5%. Among the 100 largest metropolitan areas, 67 metro areas experienced statistically significant increases in their concentrated poverty rate during the 2000s, while decreases were recorded in 21 other metro areas.
In the 2000s, the Midwest experienced the most significant growth in the number of extreme-poverty census tracts (79%). The rise in the number of extreme-poverty census tracts was also substantial in the South (23.9%). Conversely, the West saw a small decrease in the number of extreme-poverty tracts (-16.4%) while the Northeast saw a modest rise (5.1%). Overall, the rate of concentrated poverty rose .5% nationally in the 2000s, with the Midwest experiencing the largest increase (5.2%).
Cities contained more than 80% of all extreme-poverty census tracts across the 100 largest metropolitan areas in 2005-2009. However, the number of poor living in extreme-poverty suburban neighborhoods grew by 41%, significantly faster than the 17% rise in urban areas. The number of extreme-poverty neighborhoods in the suburbs rose by 54%, compared to 18% in urban areas. Among suburban census tracts, the fastest growth in concentrated poverty occurred in exurban suburbs on the periphery of metropolitan areas.
As urban and suburban areas are both experiencing rising poverty, the study’s authors recommend further strengthening of regional strategies to address issues related to poverty, including land use, housing and economic development policies.
The study, The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty, is part of Brookings’ Metropolitan Opportunity Series, and can be found at http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2011/1103_poverty_kneebone_nadeau_berube.aspx