Studying poor neighborhoods alongside “Racially Concentrated Areas of Affluence”

Scholars in recent decades have spent a lot of time studying neighborhoods with concentrated poverty but what about those areas of concentrated wealth?

Cities such as St. Louis, Boston, Baltimore, and Minneapolis have more racially concentrated areas of affluence (RCAAs) than they do racially concentrated areas of poverty (RCAPs). Boston has the most RCAAs of the cities they examined, with 77. St. Louis has 44 RCAAs, and 36 RCAPs. Other cities with a large number of racially concentrated areas of affluence include Philadelphia, with 70, Chicago, with 58, and Minneapolis, with 56.

In Boston, 43.5 percent of the white population lives in census tracts that are 90 percent or more white and have a median income of four times the poverty level. In St. Louis, 54.4 percent of the white population lives in such tracts…

Public policy has “focused on the concentration of poverty and residential segregation. This has problematized non-white and high-poverty neighborhoods,” said Goetz, the director of the Center for Urban and Rural Affairs at the University of Minnesota, when presenting his findings at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “It’s shielded the other end of the spectrum from scrutiny—to the point where we think segregation of whites is normal.”…

In racially concentrated areas of affluence, federal dollars come in the form of the mortgage-interest deduction. In areas of poverty, they come through vouchers and subsidized housing units. In the Twin Cities, the total federal investment in the form of housing dollars in RCAAs was three times larger than the investment in RCAPs. On a per capita basis, it was about equal.

Federal dollars are now being spent to “subsidize racially concentrated areas of affluence,” Goetz said.

Three quick thoughts:

1. Sociologists studying such topics may not spend enough time studying elites and the wealthy. This could be for a variety of reasons: those with power and money can limit access (hence moving to smaller exclusive communities or compounds or towers of the uber-wealthy); sociologists tend to be middle to upper-class themselves; poverty presents a more visible social problem compared to the shadowy actions of those with money and influence.

2. Suburban scholars have long noted the government support for wealthier areas. The American suburbs came about partially due to certain cultural values (individualism, private property, racism) but may not have been possible on such a grand scale without federal money for mortgages (as the industry was altered in the first half of the early twentieth century), highways (interstates as largely paid for by the federal government), and diverting money away from cities to suburban areas.

3. From a policy perspective, is it easier to move those in poverty to wealthier areas (though programs like Moving to Opportunity) rather than encouraging the wealthy to move to less advantaged areas? Policy sometimes gravitates to solutions that seem doable (as opposed to what might be most effective in the long run) and I imagine the wealthy really don’t want to move to areas with more poverty.


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