Poverty in the United States doesn't look like it did just a few decades ago. In many metro areas, it touches more people today than in 1980. The demographics have changed too, with new and expanding communities of the Hispanic poor in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. And the geography has shifted – as we've previously written, following the work of Brookings Institution researchers Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone, poverty now stretches well into the suburbs.
To get a better picture of what all these changes look like over time, the Urban Institute recently created a helpful new mapping tool that tracks fine-grained Census data on poverty for every metropolitan area of the country, spanning the years from 1980-2010. The patterns vary by city (Chicago Magazine has a good discussion of what the tool illustrates there). Just about everywhere, however, poverty appears to be spreading.
In some cities, like Milwaukee, it remains racially segregated, with the black poor living in one part of town, the white poor in another, and the Hispanic and Asian poor in separate pockets. In other cities, like Houston, racially diverse families living under the poverty line appear to share some of the same neighborhoods.
We've pulled out a few cities in the maps below, where one dot represents 20 people with incomes below the poverty line (whites are in blue; blacks yellow; Hispanics green; and Asians red). But you can also navigate the full tool, which includes intermediary maps for 1990 and 2000, here, or at the bottom of the page. All of these pictures underscore why policy solutions created to address poverty years ago may not be well suited to the task today.
Houston, in 1980 (left) and 2010 (right):
Milwaukee, in 1980 (left) and 2010 (right):
New York, in 1980 (left) and 2010 (right):
Las Vegas, in 1980 (left) and 2010 (right):
You can toggle between years in any city here:
All maps courtesy of the Urban Institute.