Census data shows increase in people living in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty

New Census data shows that the population of the “poorest poor” in America has grown (about 20.5 million Americans), particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty:

After declining during the 1990s economic boom, the proportion of poor people in large metropolitan areas who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods jumped from 11.2 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent last year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis released Thursday. Such geographically concentrated poverty in the U.S. is now at the highest since 1990, following a decade of high unemployment and rising energy costs.

Extreme poverty today continues to be prevalent in the industrial Midwest, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Akron, Ohio, due to a renewed decline in manufacturing. But the biggest growth in high-poverty areas is occurring in newer Sun Belt metro areas such as Las Vegas, Riverside, Calif., and Cape Coral, Fla., after the plummeting housing market wiped out home values and dried up construction jobs.

As a whole, the number of poor in the suburbs who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods rose by 41 percent since 2000, more than double the growth of such city neighborhoods.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, described a demographic shift in people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have less access to good schools, hospitals and government services. As concentrated poverty spreads to new areas, including suburbs, the residents are now more likely to be white, native-born and high school or college graduates — not the conventional image of high-school dropouts or single mothers in inner-city ghettos.

Two things to note: the percentage of people living in poverty concentrated areas is back at 1990 levels and these areas themselves have shifted to new places like the suburbs and the Sun Belt. Are we any better off in addressing this issue than we were when scholars called attention to this like William Julius Wilson in the 1980s and Paul Jargowsky in the 1990s?

It is interesting that there is very little in current political or cultural discourse about the “poorest poor” as most of the current talk centers on the middle class or perhaps the working class. Even Occupy Wall Street seems to be about the middle and working classes. Perhaps much of this group’s anger is driven by the middle-class who now feels the pinch of the economic crisis but the “poorest poor” have been dealing with similar and/or worse concerns for decades.