A report from The Century Foundation estimates that the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods has increased from 7.2 million to 13.8 million since 2000. This 91% increase reverses a trend in the 1990’s, a decade that experienced a 25% decrease. A component of the increase is reflected in the percentage of poor people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which grew from 10.3% in 2000 to 14.4% today. Although the majority of poor people do not live in high-poverty neighborhoods, those that do face a “double disadvantage” of low family income while also living in a poor neighborhood. A high-poverty neighborhood is defined as a census tract where at least 40% of residents live below the federal poverty threshold.
The concentration of poverty is most significant for black people. Twenty-five percent of poor blacks live in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared to 17.4% of poor Hispanics and 7.5% of poor whites. A higher percentage of non-poor blacks (9.0%) live in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor whites (7.5%).
Poor children, particularly black and Hispanic poor children, are more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor adults. Twenty-eight percent of poor black children under the age of six live in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared to 24.2% of poor black adults. Among Hispanics, 18.1% of poor children and 16.9% of poor adults live in high-poverty neighborhoods. For white non-Hispanics, 6.2% of poor children live in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared to 8.2% of poor adults.
The concentration of poverty has grown faster in small and mid-size metropolitan areas than in large areas. Since 2000, the percentage of poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods grew by less than two percentage points in the thirteen metropolitan areas with more than 3,000,000, and grew by only one-half percentage point for black households. In contrast, the percentage of poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods grew by 6.1 percentage points overall in metropolitan areas of less than 250,000 residents, and by 9.4 percentage points for poor black households.
In addition to the recent recession, the author identified factors related to the distribution of housing that contribute to concentrated poverty, including:
- Suburbs that “have grown so fast that their growth was cannibalistic: it came at the expense of the central city and older suburbs… suburban rings grew much faster than needed to accommodate metropolitan population growth, so that the central cities and inner-ring suburbs saw massive population declines. The recent trend toward gentrification is barely a ripple compared to the massive surge to the suburbs since about 1970.”
- Exclusionary zoning and discrimination in the housing market, leaving the poor behind.
- Spatial distribution of public and assisted housing.
The author asserts that two changes need to occur, both of which are hard to achieve:
- Federal and state governments should begin to control suburban development so that it is in line with metropolitan population growth.
- Municipalities in a metropolitan area should be required to ensure that new housing reflects the income distribution of the metropolitan area as a whole.
The author expresses hope that HUD’s new “affirmatively furthering affordable housing” rules will bring renewed attention to the concentration of poverty.
The study draws on data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census and the 2009-2013 American Community Survey (ACS).
Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy is available at http://apps.tcf.org/architecture-of-segregation.