The Department of Health and Human Services sets the poverty threshold at $25,100 for a family of four in the contiguous United States. While the hardships associated with such financial strain are significant and pervasive, about 5.5 million Americans living in poverty face the additional strain that comes with living in an extremely poor neighborhood — one with a poverty rate of 40% or greater.
Despite near record-low unemployment, a booming stock market, and nearly the longest period of sustained economic growth in U.S. history, conditions are not improving for all Americans. The share of Americans living in poverty climbed from 13.8% to 15.1% between 2010 and 2016.
Encouragingly, the share of Americans living both below the poverty line and in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of at least 40% — referred to as concentrated poverty or extreme poverty — declined from 14.0% to 11.6%. However, some cities did not track with the national trend. In 41 states there was at least one metro area that reported an uptick in concentrated poverty between 2010 and 2016.
In an exchange with 24/7 Wall St., Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at nonprofit public policy organization Brookings Institution, explained the problems extreme poverty can pose. “People who live in concentrated poverty have to deal not only with the challenges their own low incomes bring, but also with the challenges of their neighbors’ low incomes,” Berube said. Such challenges can include fewer job opportunities, stressed schools, elevated crime, and inadequate public infrastructure and health services.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. compared the percentage point change in concentrated poverty rates in U.S. metro areas in each state between 2010 and 2016 to identify the cities where concentrated poverty is increasing the most. Despite spanning cities from coast to coast, neighborhoods facing extreme poverty tend to share multiple characteristics.