The Rise of Concentrated Suburban Poverty in the 21st Century


Guest post by Raquel Jones

At the turn of the century, the sum of urban poor greatly outnumbered the sum of suburban residents living beneath the federal poverty line[i]. However, much has changed in the physical location of poverty over the last decade, so much so that it may now be said that suburbs contain nearly as many high-poverty[ii] tracts as cities, and almost half of all of the metro area poor population living in high-poverty tracts live in suburbs. These neighborhoods have the potential to become areas of concentrated poverty in due time, which is why there is a need for them to be closely monitored. Suburbs face an uphill battle in combating this unforeseen problem, as they are ill-equipped and unprepared for this growing issue.

The most challenging aspect of this revision in demographic trends lies in the distribution of poverty, which has been marked by intermittent clusters of poor in the display of distressed neighborhoods[iii]. As documented in the American Community Survey, the concentrated poverty rate (the share of poor residents living in distressed tracts) had jumped from 9.1% in 2000 to 12.2% from 2008-2012.

Impoverished neighborhoods provide residents with fewer opportunities and more hardships, so that locals become entrapped in an endless cycle of poverty, making it near impossible to escape. This, of course, has serious implications on the larger regions encompassing these run-down communities, as it becomes more difficult to promote growth in metropolitan areas when poverty proves to be a consistent issue. In order to more effectively tackle this growing issue, there is a need for more integrated and cross-cutting approaches.

There have, however, been some positive demographic trends in the last decade or so, such as the increase in homeownership rates in higher-poverty tracts and the noticeable decrease in households receiving public assistance. Other demographic changes include a more diverse population living in lower-poverty neighborhoods, although white people continue to constitute a majority. On the other hand, higher-poverty neighborhoods have increasingly become integrated with white people.

According to data released through a recent report, the Toledo Metro Area appears to have the highest percentage of the poor population living in high-poverty and distressed neighborhoods in Ohio. It is ranked 3rd out of the 100 largest metro areas in the nation for its share of poor living in distressed neighborhoods (poverty rates of 40% or higher).

To search for more statistics on other Ohio metro areas, visit this interactive feature in the Brookings report, “The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012″ by Elizabeth Kneebone.
[i] In 2012, the federal poverty line was defined as an income of $23,492 for a family of four.

[ii] High-poverty neighborhoods: at least 20% of residents are poor

[iii] Distressed neighborhoods: at least 40% of residents live below the poverty line

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