Neighborhoods of Opportunity vs. Concentrated Poverty

Poverty is closely linked to housing, not just because of the high cost, but because where you live makes all the difference. Living in a neighborhood of opportunity means having access to resources that help build a better life. Examples include things like good schools, good jobs, transportation, and resources such as libraries and parks. Everyone wants to live and raise their families in such neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many low income Virginians grow up in neighborhoods of poverty: neighborhoods without good schools, few jobs, little to no public resources and probably a substantial criminal presence in the area. Families trying to break out of the cycle of poverty already have the deck stacked against them. That’s why reducing poverty means increasing neighborhoods of opportunity and decreasing concentrations of poverty. Below is my summary and discussion of a report entitled The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

The severe consequences of concentrated poverty mean we should all be concerned when poverty rises. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has been happening. From the 1990s into the 2000s we have gone through major economic challenges.  These challenges have been especially acute for low and moderate income Virginians. Concentrated poverty, as a result, has increased over the 2000s. After substantial progress against concentrated poverty during the booming economy of the late 1990s, the economically turbulent 2000s saw much of those gains erased. A recent analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows many population trends as a result of the tumultuous economy.

These findings are as follows:

  • After declining in the 1990s, the population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of individuals live below the poverty line rose by one-third from 2000 to 2005-09.
  • Concentrated poverty nearly doubled in Midwestern metro areas from 2000 to 2005-09, and rose by one-third in Southern metro areas.
  • The population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods rose more than twice as fast in suburbs as in cities from 2000 to 2005-09.
  • The shift of concentrated poverty to the Midwest and South in the 2000s altered the average demographic profile of extreme-poverty neighborhoods.

The recession-induced rise in poverty in the late 2000s likely further increased the concentration of poor individuals into neighborhoods of extreme poverty. Becoming trapped in concentrated poverty is a very infectious cycle.  It limits education, puts families in areas of increased crime, encumbers wealth building, reduces availability of goods and services, and financially burdens local government.

  • It limits education: Children from high poverty areas tend to go to neighborhood schools where nearly all the other children are poor as well.  These students are at greater risk of failure according to standardized texts drop-out rates, and grade retention. This is not just because of each student’s personal situation, but also owing to the fact that high poverty areas have negative effects on the schools’ quality and processes. Because the school must help to finance special programs for these underprivileged children, they have less money for things like books, computers, teachers, and sports equipment.
  • Puts families in areas of increased crime: Crime rates are much higher in economically troubled areas.
  • Encumbers wealth building: Many who live in these concentrated poverty areas own their own homes.  This could deny them the ability to advance their wealth by selling their home because of poor market.
  • Reduces availability of goods and services: People who are looking to develop new businesses will see a low income area as an unattractive place to begin.  This movement will limit jobs, food, utilities, and other services; ultimately driving up prices from a lack of competition.
  • Financially burdens local government: A single, concentrated area of poor will increase local government costs associated with welfare, uninsured health care, and an increase in crime, resulting in more costs to build and maintain courts, police forces, and jail). This in turn will lead to higher taxes in areas of higher poverty.

Because of the detrimental impact of concentrating poverty, it should be even more important to promote policies that decrease the concentration of poverty. Decreasing the concentration of poverty is one of HOME’s 7 Stepping Stones to Housing Equality. These are significant goals that provide for tremendous social and economic benefits to our entire Commonwealth.


One thought on “Neighborhoods of Opportunity vs. Concentrated Poverty

  1. Glancing at the Virginia MSAs in the Brookings report, it’s interesting that the share of poor people living in “extreme poverty” neighborhoods has increased in the Richmond MSA since 2000, while it has decreased in the DC and Virginia Beach MSAs. The drop in the concentration of poverty has been particularly large in the Virginia Beach MSA. Also, as of the 2005-2009 period, the Richmond area has almost twice the concentration of poverty as DC or Virginia Beach.

    What are the DC region and Virginia Beach region doing right, policy-wise, that the Richmond region is not doing right? Or is this the result of something other than policy differences? The overall poverty rate is slightly higher in Richmond than in Virginia Beach, with the DC region having a lower poverty rate, but the difference between the RVA and VA Beach regions in poverty rates doesn’t seem like it would be large enough to explain the differences in the concentration of poverty.

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