The Shift in America’s Poor

A study by Elizabeth Kneebone at the Brookings Institute examines how poverty in the United States has changed and how the distribution of poor American families has changed when compared to a decade and a half ago.  The data used for the report comes from the American Community Survey for the years from 2008 to 2012 and captures the changes to America's poor population during and after the Great Recession for 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.  Distressed neighbourhoods or census tracts are defined as those neighbourhoods that have poverty rates of 40 percent or more.

 
Here is a chart showing the 2014 Federal Poverty Guidelines for your information:
 
The Gini Ratio is a measure of income inequality.  Basically, it measures income distribution of a country's residents, defining the gap between the rich and poor of a nation with a higher number representing a greater degree of income inequality.  Here is a graph showing the Gini Ratio for the United States since 1967:

Obviously, income inequality in the United States has grown quite steadily over the past two generations.

Since 2000, the geographic distribution of poor families in the United States has changed.  In 2000, the urban poor outnumbered their peers in suburban areas.  Now, more poor residents live in suburban areas than either big cities or rural areas.  Over the 2000s, the number of distressed neighbourhoods grew by 71.6 percent with the poor population growing by 77.6 percent from 3,021,404 in 2000 to 5,365,005 in 2008 – 2012.  The nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas are home to 70 percent of all distressed neighbourhoods.

 
Here is a chart showing the distressed neighbourhood statistics (more than 40 percent poverty rate) for the urban poor for both 2000 and the period between 2008 – 2012:
 
Here is a chart showing the distressed neighbourhood statistics for suburban poor for both 2000 and the period between 2008 – 2012:
 
If you compare the two charts, you'll notice that the growth rates in the poor population was quite different for cities and suburban areas; in cities, the poor population grew by 50.2 percent over the 2000s compared to growth of 138.7 percent for suburban areas.  That said, the concentrated poverty rate still remains highest in cities with 23 percent of people living in distressed neighbourhoods being poor compared to only 6.3 percent in suburban areas.
 
If we look at high poverty neighbourhoods where poverty rates are between 20 and 40 percent, we see strong growth rates as well.  By 2008 – 2012, the suburbs had 4313 high poverty tracts and urban areas had 5353 high poverty tracts.  Between 2000 and 2008 – 2012, the poor population living in high poverty urban areas grew by 21 percent to 5.9 million while in suburban areas, over the same timeframe, the poor population grew by 105 percent to 4.9 million.  
 
Here is a bar graph showing the growth in the share of suburban poor both high poverty and distressed neighbourhoods over the period from 2000 to 2008 – 2012:
 
Let's look at a bit more detail for a moment, outlining where the growth in the number of suburban poor was highest.  Over the 2000s, all but three of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas saw the number of suburban poor living in high-poverty or distressed neighbourhoods grow.  Here is a chart showing the metropolitan areas with the highest growth rates of suburban poor between 2000 and 2008 – 2012 living in census tracts where the poverty rate was at least 20 percent:
 
While Atlanta doesn't hit the top of the list when it comes to growth in the share of the poor in high poverty neighbourhoods, it does have some other dubious distinctions.  It saw the number of high-poverty and distressed neighbourhoods grow from 32 to 197 and is among the top three neighbourhoods when it comes to growth in its suburban poor during the 2000s.  
 
Here is a map showing the share of suburban poor living in high-poverty and distressed neighbourhoods in 2008 – 2012 (i.e. poverty rates of 20 percent or higher in 2008 – 2012:
 
In first place we find the census tract of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission in southernmost Texas where 91.6 percent of people living in this high-poverty or distressed neighbourhood being considered poor.

Last, here is a map showing the percentage change in the poor population of high-poverty and distressed neighbourhoods between 2000 and 2008 – 2012:

 

In first place we find the census tract of Cape Coral – Fort Myers in southern Florida where the poor population has grown by 110.2 percent between 2000 and 2008 – 2012.  Boise City, Idaho comes in second place with their poor population growing by 108.5 percent over the decade.

Between 2000 and 2008 – 2012, the United States saw a significant shift in the distribution of its poorest citizens from poor urban neighbourhoods to poor suburban areas.  Research shows that as poverty levels in neighbourhoods breach the 20 percent threshold, the negative impacts of concentrated poverty begin to express themselves in dropping property values and a lack of basic services.  With ethnic minorities making up a disproportionate share of residents in higher poverty neighbourhoods and with growing income inequality in America, it is just a matter of time before another Ferguson, Missouri-type violent outbreak occurs as residents sense the hopelessness of their lives.
 
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