Concentrated Poverty Increased Dramatically after Great Recession

A report published by The Brookings Institution titled U.S. Concentrated Poverty in the Wake of the Great Recession shows a significant increase in the number of people living in concentrated poverty across the United States, particularly among blacks and Hispanics. Concentrated poverty has also grown more rapidly in the suburbs than in the urban cores of the largest 100 metropolitan areas. 

The report utilizes data from the 2000 decennial census and the American Community Survey (ACS) 5 year estimates for 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 to track the growth of concentrated poverty leading up to and following the Great Recession. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of extremely poor neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where 40% or more of the population lives below the federal poverty line, grew by 39.5%.  The share of people in poverty residing in extremely poor neighborhoods increased by 36.2%. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of extremely poor neighborhoods climbed by 47.6% and the poor population residing in concentrated poverty grew by 55.4%. By 2014, 14 million people lived in extremely poor neighborhoods, which is 5.2 million more than before the Great Recession and more than double the number in 2000.

The growth in concentrated poverty is not simply the product of an increase in the overall poverty rate. Had the 3.2% national growth in poverty between 2000 and 2014 been evenly distributed across census tracts, approximately 800 neighborhoods would have become extremely poor. Between 2000 and the 2010-2014 ACS period, 2,151 additional neighborhoods met the definition of an extremely poor neighborhood. By 2010-2014 more than 4,181 census tracts met this definition. 

This growing concentration of poverty has disproportionately impacted blacks and Hispanics. According to the report, between the 2005-2009 ACS period and the 2010-2014 ACS period, the share of poor residents living in distressed neighborhoods increased by 3.9% for blacks and 4.7% for Hispanics. The percent of whites residing in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty grew by only 1.4%.

The increase in concentrated poverty was not limited to the inner city. In fact, among the 100 largest metropolitan areas, the number of people below the poverty threshold living in concentrated poverty grew twice as fast in suburbs as in cities. Given the spread of concentrated poverty beyond urban cores into suburbs, the report calls for greater regional planning efforts to combat and deconcentrate poverty through transportation, economic and workforce development, land use, zoning, and affordable housing initiatives.

U.S. Concentrated Poverty in the Wake of the Great Recession is available at