Poverty-stricken neighborhoods almost triple in US

Poverty-stricken neighborhoods almost triple in US
Contrary to the perception in the media, poverty – not gentrification – is booming in US neighborhoods. When such conditions double or triple, areas quickly fall into disrepair, services are cut, and crime escalates, according to a new report.

Media attention tends to focus on poor neighborhoods that are rapidly undergoing gentrification by way of investments and an influx of wealthier new residents, but a paper by cityobservatory.org shows a troubling trend that is more prevalent. The number of poor people living in high-poverty urban neighborhoods has more than doubled, the report found, from two million to four million over the past 40 years. Additionally, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods has nearly tripled from 1,100 to 3,100.

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The direct negative economic consequences of concentrated poverty are well established...fewer local job prospects...poor physical connections to growing job centers...[worse] health...poor quality public services that worsen the experience of poverty for neighborhood residents, and make it harder to attract new residents and businesses, adding to a cycle of decline,” said the report’s authors Joe Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi.

The study, titled 'Lost in Place,' looks into why the persistence and spread of concentrated poverty – not gentrification – is the biggest urban challenge in the US. It analyzed changes in high-poverty neighborhoods in 51 of the largest metropolitan areas between 1970 and 2010. In these areas, 30 percent or more of the population lives below the poverty line.

Several factors contributed to concentrated poverty. People that could leave the neighborhoods because of education and income did, leaving poorer residents behind. Because of poverty, aging buildings and infrastructure became neglected. As the buildings got older, their value went down and became more affordable for low income families.

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Because the slow decline is more common and less visible, it is seldom remarked upon, while gentrification, when it happens – which is both unusual and dramatic – is far more evident change,” explains the report.

AFP Photo / Mark Ralston

The report shows that Brooklyn, for example, went from having four poor neighborhoods to having five, while it went from having zero rich neighborhoods to having two. Despite gaining a poor neighborhood, Brooklyn was singled out as having the least amount of affordable housing in the US.

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Concentrated poverty disproportionately affects persons of color, too, the report found. About 75 percent of those living in high-poverty neighborhoods are African-American or Latino. The federal poverty threshold is currently set at approximately $23,000 per year for a family of four.

In the USA, there are now more census tracts of concentrated poverty than have never been recorded before, resulting in more than 11 million Americans, or four percent of the population, living in severely distressed neighborhoods,” said Rutgers professor Paul Jargowsky.

The increase in concentrated poverty was highest in the Midwest, which experienced a 132 percent increase in the number of people living in high poverty neighborhoods, to 2.7 million; followed by the South, which suffered a 66 percent increase to 4.6 million.”