Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new analysis by the Brookings Institution shows increases in two-thirds of the largest U.S. metros.
The number of American poor living in depressed neighborhoods—those with at least 40 percent of residents below poverty line—has been on the rise since the 1990s. And according to a new analysis of Census data by the Brookings Institution, the recession further accelerated this upward trend.
Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy program analyzed fresh American Community Survey five-year estimates for the post-recession period (2010-2014), and compared it to data between 2005-2009—the period during which the recession was in full swing. Here’s how the researchers summarize their findings:
Poverty spread beyond its historic urban and rural locales, rising rapidly in smaller metropolitan areas and making the nation’s suburbs home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Yet, even as poverty spread to touch more people and places, it became more concentrated in distressed and disadvantaged areas.
Below are three key takeaways from the analysis, accompanied by maps and graphs:
More poor people are living in depressed neighborhoods
Where you grow up determines whether or not you are likely to prosper—economist Raj Chetty’s research has made that very clear. That’s why it’s incredibly concerning that a lot more people are clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods that hamper their chances of climbing up the economic ladder than in previous decades. In the 2010-2014 period, the number of people living in such neighborhoods increased to 14 million—that’s 5.2 million more than before the recession hit, and double the amount in 2000.
The striking increases in the total number of high-poverty neighborhoods (48 percent) and the number of people living in them (59 percent) between the first five-year period (2005-2009) and the second one (2010-2014) indicates the significant impact of the recession.
People of color—particularly black and Hispanic populations—were the worst hit by the economic downturn and have seen the slowest recovery. So it’s not surprising that these groups are disproportionately affected by concentrated poverty, as well. According to Brookings, blacks remained the group most likely to live in concentrated poverty, whereas the shares of Hispanic poor living in depressed neighborhoods rose the most in the post-recession period:
Concentrated poverty rose in a majority of U.S. metros
A total of 67 out of the 100 largest metros saw their shares of poor living in depressed neighborhoods rise. Sun Belt metros in California (Fresno, Bakersfield, and Stockton), Arizona (Phoenix and Tucson), and industrial metros like Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Syracuse in the Midwest and Northeast saw the most dramatic increases. And some of these metros (Fresno, Syracuse, and Bakersfield, for example) were already in the list of metros with the overall highest concentrated poverty.
But even in the metros that saw decreases, concentrated poverty was still an issue. The authors explain:
In some cases—like Washington, D.C.—the decline came not because the number of poor residents in distressed neighborhoods fell, but because the poor population grew at a faster pace elsewhere. In other regions, including Baton Rouge, Bridgeport, and El Paso, the number of distressed neighborhoods and the number of poor residents living in those areas dropped. El Paso, however, continued to rank among the regions with the highest concentrated poverty rates in 2010-14.
Here’s a map showing the changes in concentrated poverty in the 100 largest U.S. metros between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014:
Suburban concentrated poverty grew at twice the rate of cities
The 2000s saw a steady suburbanization of poverty, and the recession jacked this trend up as well. The number of poor suburbanites who lived in concentrated poverty in the five years post-recession was double that in the 2005-2009 period. And concentrated poverty in suburbs grew at twice the rate of that in cities.
Still, big cities remain the paramount concern. They house an overwhelming share (roughly 74 percent) of the metro-area poor in the U.S. who live in depressed areas. And a larger share of urban residents experience this phenomenon compared to suburbanites: In the 2010-2014 period, almost 26 percent of the urban poor lived in concentrated poverty, compared to only 7 percent of the suburban poor (although this suburban share jumped up 2.4 percent points from the preceding five-year period).
All racial groups in the suburbs suffered concentrated poverty at lower rates than their urban counterparts. The suburban racial gap, however, was significantly worse. Poor African Americans were 3.5 times more likely to live in high-poverty areas than poor whites. In the cities, it was 2.5 times.
Keeping these emerging patterns of concentrated poverty in mind, the authors make the following recommendation:
Adapting to today’s geography of poverty does not and should not mean shifting limited (and often inadequate) resources from cities, where need remains high, to suburbs, where need has quickly grown. Rather, the increasingly regional footprint of poverty and concentrated disadvantage calls for regional solutions that work across city and suburban boundaries.