Cities Hit Hardest by Extreme Poverty

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For the nearly 46.9 million Americans living below the poverty line, financial insecurity affects nearly every aspect of daily life — from personal relationships to physical and mental health. Just as poverty takes a toll on the individual, communities where large shares of the populations live in poverty can also suffer tremendously.

The U.S. poverty rate stands at 14.6%. Concentrated poverty is defined as neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40% or more. Individuals living on poverty level income in concentrated poverty neighborhoods face not only the personal effects of poverty, but also broader, communal effects. These often include higher crime rates, underperforming schools, and limited economic opportunity.

Nationwide, 11.3% of those living in poverty also live in concentrated poverty neighborhoods. This level of extreme poverty is much more common in some of America’s largest cities. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the share of the population living below the poverty line in concentrated poverty neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas to identify the cities hit hardest by extreme poverty.

The cities on this list are not necessarily the poorest cities in the country. Several, including Cincinnati, New York, and Philadelphia, actually have a lower poverty rate than the U.S. as a whole. They are, however, the most economically segregated cities in the country.

Concentrated poverty neighborhoods foster a vicious cycle of poverty among those who live there, and economic and social mobility in these places tend to be limited. In most of these cities, residents of concentrated poverty neighborhoods are less than half as likely to be homeowners and have a college education and more than twice as likely to be unemployed as residents of neighborhoods with poverty rates below 40%.

Often, non-white minority residents of the cities on this list are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty. Several cities on this list also rank among the worst cities for black Americans.

Source: Ron Reiring / Wikimedia Commons

22. Columbus, OH
> Concentrated poverty rate: 15.2%
> Unemployment in poor neighborhoods: 12.2%
> Total number of poor neighborhoods: 28 (6.6% of all neighborhoods)
> Change in concentrated poverty (2011-2017): -0.5 ppt

Columbus, Ohio, is one of the most economically segregated metro areas in the United States. More than 15% of the metro area’s impoverished population lives in neighborhoods where at least 40% of residents live in poverty.

Due to several environmental factors, such as unemployment, upward social mobility is limited in concentrated poverty neighborhoods. Across Columbus’s poor neighborhoods, the 12.2% jobless rate is more than double the 4.9% unemployment rate in the remaining parts of the metro area. Additionally, the 26.4% homeownership rate in the metro area’s concentrated poverty neighborhoods is less than half the 63.5% homeownership rate in the rest of the metro area.

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

21. Winston-Salem, NC
> Concentrated poverty rate: 15.4%
> Unemployment in poor neighborhoods: 14.8%
> Total number of poor neighborhoods: 14 (9.5% of all neighborhoods)
> Change in concentrated poverty (2011-2017): -9.0 ppt

There are 14 Census tracts or neighborhoods in the Winston-Salem metro area where at least 40% of residents live below the poverty line. As of 2017, over 17,000 people, or 15.4% of the metro area residents who live on poverty level income, lived in one of those neighborhoods. For reference, 11.3% of Americans living below the poverty line are in similarly poor neighborhoods.

Despite the relatively high extreme poverty rate, Winston-Salem has improved considerably in recent years. The metro area’s most recent extreme poverty rate marks a 9 percentage point improvement from the 24.4% rate in 2011.

Source: Zereshk / Wikimedia Commons

20. Tucson, AZ
> Concentrated poverty rate: 15.5%
> Unemployment in poor neighborhoods: 18.0%
> Total number of poor neighborhoods: 19 (8.0% of all neighborhoods)
> Change in concentrated poverty (2011-2017): -5.6 ppt

In the Tucson metro area, nearly 28,000 people live on poverty level incomes in poor neighborhoods. The metro area’s poor communities are characterized by widespread joblessness with 18% of the labor force unemployed, compared to a 7.7% unemployment rate in the metro area’s other neighborhoods, where fewer than 40% of the population lives in poverty.

Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and just 68.3% of adults in Tucson’s poor neighborhoods have completed high school, well below the 89.2% of adults who completed high school in the city’s other neighborhoods.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

19. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ
> Concentrated poverty rate: 15.6%
> Unemployment in poor neighborhoods: 17.3%
> Total number of poor neighborhoods: 8 (4.5% of all neighborhoods)
> Change in concentrated poverty (2011-2017): -2.8 ppt

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton is not an especially poor metro area. Just 11.1% of the population lives below the poverty line, a considerably smaller share than the 14.6% national poverty rate. Still, the metro area is one of the most economically segregated in the United States. Of those living in poverty, 15.6% live in neighborhoods where at least 40% of residents also live below the poverty line.

Incomes tend to go up with educational attainment, and a relatively small share of the residents in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area’s poorest neighborhoods have a college education. In metro area neighborhoods where 40% of the population lives in poverty, fewer than one in 10 adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to nearly 30% of adults in the rest of the region.

Source: jjbers / Flickr

18. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
> Concentrated poverty rate: 15.7%
> Unemployment in poor neighborhoods: 13.7%
> Total number of poor neighborhoods: 217 (4.7% of all neighborhoods)
> Change in concentrated poverty (2011-2017): +0.2 ppt

In the New York City metro area, the largest in the country, over 430,000 people live on poverty level wages in poor neighborhoods. Nationwide, minorities are more likely to live in extreme poverty conditions than white Americans. The New York metro area is a notable exception. Nearly one out of every five white metro area residents earning poverty level wages live in extreme poverty neighborhoods, compared to 18.7% of poor Hispanic New Yorkers and 12.6% of poor black New Yorkers.

Homeownership is one of the most common ways for Americans to build intergenerational wealth. In New York’s poorest neighborhoods, the homeownership rate is just 8.8% compared to over 50% in the rest of the metro area.