Special Report

11 Cities Hit Hardest by Extreme Poverty

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Although the economy has largely recovered from the worst effects of the recession, many more Americans live in poverty today than did during the crisis. Perhaps of greater concern is the fact that poverty appears to be increasingly concentrated. More than half of the nation’s poor people now live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Concentrated extreme poverty — the share of the poor population living in neighborhoods where at least 40% of residents are poor — is a measure that reflects the additional obstacle millions of our nation’s poor residents face. The isolation of impoverished people in poor neighborhoods, and the numerous disadvantages that accompany this condition, has historically been much more common in major cities. After the recession, concentrated poverty rates increased very rapidly in some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. In Fresno, California, the share of poor people living in extremely impoverished neighborhoods increased from 25% during the recession to 44% today — the fastest increase in that time.

Rich or poor, residents of neighborhoods with high poverty rates face a number of challenges. In a conversation with 24/7 Wall St., Elizabeth Kneebone, fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, explained that extreme concentrated poverty has “long lasting consequences. It affects the ability of families and residents to break the cycle of poverty, to find the kinds of opportunities and pathways that can get them out of poverty over time.”

Click here to see the 11 cities hit hardest by extreme poverty.

Poverty can impact most aspects of people’s lives. Poor neighborhoods tend to have higher crime rates and negative health outcomes. Residents of these neighborhoods are also more likely to attend schools with higher dropout rates, and they are less likely to find job opportunities through their social networks.

Over the last decade, the suburban poor population grew faster than the urban poor population. When a residential area starts to deteriorate, it is usually the wealthiest residents who move out, leaving higher poverty rates behind. In a reverse of traditional migratory patterns, wealthy residents are leaving the suburbs for revitalized downtown neighborhoods and new developments.

Historical forces have shaped the concentration of poverty in America. Many of the worst pockets of poverty in the country were originally partitioned along racial lines. Fresno is one such example. In 1936, a government corporation created a color-coded map that graded the city’s most racially diverse areas as the least suitable for development, condemning West Fresno to a future of underdevelopment and urban blight. The segregation was strengthened in the 1960s, when an influx of unskilled black and Hispanic workers were discriminated against and forced to settle in West Fresno.

Policies such as those in Fresno have likely contributed to the current state of poverty in the United States, in which minorities are significantly more likely to live in extreme concentrated poverty. While 44% of the country’s poor people are white, only 18% the nation’s poor people living in extremely poor neighborhoods are white.

Even more concerning, these conditions are worsening for blacks and Hispanics faster than for whites, and this is particularly the case in many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. In the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota metropolitan area in Florida, the share of poor Hispanic residents living in extremely concentrated poverty increased since the recession by 22 percentage points to 26%. The share of poor whites living in extremely poor North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota neighborhoods increased by 2 percentage points to 3%.

As a metropolitan area develops, the right policies can create and sustain mixed-income neighborhoods. Inclusionary zoning laws, affordable housing, and housing subsidies are but a few policies that can encourage the commingling of income brackets. Such policies are “levers that local and regional decision makers can pull to try and reshape these trends and stem the concentration of poverty,” Kneebone said.

To identify the major metropolitan areas where poverty is concentrating the fastest, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from a Brookings Institution report on concentrated poverty since the Great Recession. The concentrated poverty rate is the share of a metropolitan area’s poor population that lives in a census tract characterized by extreme poverty — having a poverty rate of 40% or higher. The concentrated poverty rate was reviewed for two periods: a five-year estimate for 2005-2009 and a five-year estimate for 2009-2014, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Census tracts in which more than 50% of the population is enrolled in postsecondary school, or where the total population is fewer than 500 were excluded from consideration of extreme poverty.

These are the cities where poverty is concentrating the fastest.

11. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
9 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 13%
> Poor population: 763,891
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 31
> Poverty rate: 18.0%

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro region was more severely affected by the recession than most of the country. The poverty rate rose from 13.3% in 2009 to 18.0% — one of the highest poverty rates among major metropolitan areas. As poverty intensified, it also became more concentrated.

While the region is one of the largest U.S. metros by area, extreme poverty — defined as a 40% poverty rate or greater in a neighborhood — is limited to a fraction of the total geographic area, primarily around the more urban areas of Riverside and San Bernardino.

10. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
9 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 12%
> Poor population: 94,428
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 4
> Poverty rate: 13.2%

While there was a general increase in concentrated poverty across most large U.S. urban areas, the increase was particularly dramatic in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metropolitan area on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

The area’s Hispanic population, in particular, has struggled with a severe increase in concentrated poverty. In the few years leading up to and during the recession, an estimated 4% of the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area’s poor Hispanic residents lived in extremely impoverished neighborhoods. Now, 26% of the poor Hispanic population live in extremely impoverished neighborhoods. This was the largest increase in concentrated extreme poverty among the demographic of any major metropolitan area.

9. Syracuse, NY
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
10 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 32%
> Poor population: 94,210
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 7
> Poverty rate: 15.4%

Many of the areas with highly concentrated extreme poverty tend to have very high poverty rates. Syracuse, New York, however, is an exception. While the metro’s poverty rate of 15.4% is only 45th highest among the 100 largest metropolitan areas, its concentrated poverty is the fourth highest in the country. Further, the concentration worsened significantly in the past few years.

As is the case nationwide with extreme concentrated poverty, poor nonwhites are much more likely to live in extremely impoverished neighborhoods than poor whites. Of the black and Hispanic poor people living in the Syracuse metropolitan area 58% live in very poor neighborhoods, while only 17% of poor whites live in isolated poverty.

8. Stockton-Lodi, CA
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
11 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 22%
> Poor population: 132,986
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 9
> Poverty rate: 19.4%

In Stockton-Lodi, 19.4% of residents live in poverty, one of the highest poverty rates of any major U.S. metropolitan area. Of those living poverty, 22% live in extremely impoverished neighborhoods. While most extreme poverty in Stockton is concentrated in the downtown area, it is spreading to the outlying areas. The metro also reported one of the fastest increases in the concentration of extreme poverty among its suburban population. Hispanics are getting hit the hardest by concentrated poverty in the inner city, while in the suburbs black residents are getting hit the hardest.

7. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
11 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 26%
> Poor population: 158,694
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 11
> Poverty rate: 14.5%

Residents of the major cities in western New York — Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester — have been dealing with difficult economies for decades. Of these three major metropolitan areas, Buffalo has the lowest poverty rate, at 14.5%. However, concentrated extreme poverty in the metro area increased by 11 percentage points since the recession, more rapidly than in any metropolitan area in the state.

As is the case throughout the country, Buffalo’s black and Hispanic populations are much more likely to live in isolated poverty. Also, concentrated poverty among these populations has also increased much faster than among the metro’s white population. The share of poor black people living in extreme poverty in Buffalo increased by 12 percentage points after the recession, and now 44% of poor African Americans live in extremely poor neighborhoods.

6. Tucson, AZ
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
11 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 25%
> Poor population: 180,450
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 14
> Poverty rate: 19.0%

In Tuscon, 25% of the city’s poor population live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods — in which at least two-fifths of residents are poor. This is up from 14% since the end of the recession. Such clustering of poverty is spreading in both the inner city and suburbs of Tucson. Hispanics comprise the majority of poor residents in downtown Tucson, and the suburban poor are mostly white. However, in both downtown and the suburbs, concentrated poverty is increasing the fastest among poor Hispanics. Over the past decade, many American Indian reservations in Southern Arizona have also fallen into extreme poverty.

5. Toledo, OH
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
11 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 35%
> Poor population: 113,094
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 13
> Poverty rate: 19.2%

While living in poverty has many negative consequences, the effects are often exacerbated when many poor residents live in the same neighborhoods. In Toledo, 35% of the city’s 113,094 poor residents live in extremely poor neighborhoods — where the poverty rate is 40% or greater. The metro’s concentrated poverty rate was 24% during the recession. The 11 percentage point increase in concentrated poverty was one of the greatest of any major metro area since the recession. Toledo’s extremely impoverished neighborhoods were mostly clustered in the southeast during the recession. Since then, extreme poverty has spread southward across the Maumee River into East Toledo.

As Toledo’s economy took hits from the recession, many wealthier residents likely moved out, ultimately leaving a higher poverty rate behind. Toledo’s population shrank by 6.7% from 2010 to 2014, while the country’s population as a whole grew by 3.1%.

4. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
13 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 20%
> Poor population: 275,922
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 31
> Poverty rate: 14.6%

The share of poor Indianapolis residents living in extremely poor neighborhoods — places with a poverty rate 40% or higher — has increased from 7% to 20% over the last decade, one of the fastest increases in concentrated poverty of any major U.S. metro area. Unlike most areas with high income segregation, Indianapolis is not particularly poor. It is actually one of the fastest growing cities in the country, which may be one reason for the clustering of poor people in some neighborhoods.

As affluent residents move to newly developed, mixed-use, walkable suburbs, such as Carmel, they leave behind higher poverty rates. While in the last 10 years only six suburban neighborhoods in the Indianapolis metro area crossed the threshold into extreme poverty, 25 inner city neighborhoods did.

3. Bakersfield, CA
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
15 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 32%
> Poor population: 192,972
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 15
> Poverty rate: 23.4%

Once contained primarily east of downtown Bakersfield, extreme concentrated poverty has spread throughout other parts of the metropolitan area in the past decade. Of the roughly one in four Bakersfield residents who live in poverty, 32% live in extremely poor neighborhoods. This is nearly double the pre-recession concentration, when 17% of poor metro residents lived in extreme-poverty neighborhoods — one of the largest increases of any metro area. Bakersfield also had the fastest growth in the concentration of poor suburban whites of the country’s 100 largest metro areas.

2. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
16 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 26%
> Poor population: 722,731
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 63
> Poverty rate: 17.1%

In Phoenix, the share of poor people living in extremely poor neighborhoods increased by 16 percentage points after the recession to 26%. That increase was greater than every major metropolitan area except for Fresno, California.

Rapidly rising home prices can drive poor residents into very low-income neighborhoods, and like many of the metropolitan areas where poverty became more concentrated, Phoenix home prices rose rapidly in the years leading up to the recession. Prices are still about 35% higher than in 2009. In several of the metro areas where concentrated poverty rapidly increased, the neighborhoods that crossed the threshold into extreme poverty were mostly suburbs of major cities. In Phoenix, however, neighborhoods hit more than 40% poverty rates all over the metro area, including many neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix.

1. Fresno, CA
> Post-recession chg. concentrated poverty rate:
19 percentage points
> Concentrated poverty rate: 44%
> Poor population: 254,008
> Post-recession chg. extremely poor neighborhoods: 33
> Poverty rate: 27.4%

Pockets of extreme poverty are emerging in most metropolitan areas across the country, but nowhere is it happening at a faster rate than in Fresno. The concentrated poverty rate grew by 19 percentage points over the past decade, much more than the 3 percentage point increase across the 100 largest U.S. metro areas.

Fresno has a long history of income inequality. In 1936, a government-sponsored corporation created a color-coded “Residential Security Map” for Fresno that graded its most racially diverse areas as the least suitable for development and set the foundation for the racial segregation of East and West Fresno. An influx of unskilled black and Hispanic workers in the 1960s and 1970s strengthened racial and income segregation as they settled in the dilapidated West Fresno. Over the last decade, extreme poverty has spread in both the downtown area and the suburbs, crossing the highway that divides East and West Fresno.

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