One in four Americans lived in a high-poverty area in 2012, according to Changes in Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010, a recently released report that analyzes data from the United States Census Bureau and the American Community Survey.
The 77 million Americans who live in poverty areas – defined as an area where over one-fifth of the residents earn incomes below the current poverty line of $23,600 for a family of four – represent a significant increase from the 18 percent recorded by the Census Bureau in 2000. Southern states, which have been found to have a higher percentage of low-income public school students than others, have especially seen their numbers grow. In 2012, 57.3 percent of people living in the south lived in poverty areas, up from 46.7 percent in 2000.
The increase has affected Americans across the board, but the report found that Africans Americans are the most likely to live in poverty areas, at 50.4 percent, followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives. About 20.3 percent of white Americans live in poverty areas.
The growth of poverty areas can largely be attributed to exclusionary zoning and the migration of affluent people into suburban areas, according to Paul Jargowsky, a professor of urban research and education at Rutgers University and an analyst of the report. Exclusionary zoning occurs when suburban districts set requirements for joining a neighborhood, such as large minimum house sizes, that are impossible to meet for lower-income families. These policies contribute to highly segregated neighborhoods.
“You have many, many politically independent suburbs that use exclusionary zoning to create housing only for families with higher incomes,” said Jargowsky. “As families with wealth move further and further out of urban areas you develop these very high-poverty neighborhoods where the schools begin to fail, you have high crime and low wages.”
On top of higher crime, lower wages, and schools lacking in resources, low-income families living in concentrated poverty areas often face a lack of job opportunities and lack of access to good housing conditions and health services. The report acknowledges that some government programs focus on these neighborhoods to alleviate poverty and other issues that face their residents. However, more needs to be done.
Media Resources: Al-Jazeera 7/1/14; United States Census Bureau 6/30/14; Feminist Newswire 10/17/13