While jobs have rebounded and the unemployment rate has declined, poverty still remains at recession-era levels, according to Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes of The Brookings Institution. But over the past 15 years, one aspect of poverty has changed.
The rapid growth of the nation’s poor population during the 2000s also coincided with significant shifts in the geography of American poverty. Poverty spread beyond its historic urban and rural locales, rising rapidly in smaller metropolitan areas and making the nation’s suburbs home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Yet, even as poverty spread to touch more people and places, it became more concentrated in distressed and disadvantaged areas.
When people in poverty live matters, according to Kneebone and Holmes.
The intersection between poverty and place matters. Poor neighborhoods come with an array of challenges that negatively affect both the people who live in those neighborhoods—whether they themselves are poor or not—as well as the larger regions in which those neighborhoods are located.1 Residents of poor neighborhoods face higher crime rates and exhibit poorer physical and mental health outcomes. They tend to go to poor-performing neighborhood schools with higher dropout rates. Their job-seeking networks tend to be weaker and they face higher levels of financial insecurity.
The many barriers imposed by living in a poor neighborhood make it that much harder for residents to move up the economic ladder, and their chances of doing so only diminish the longer they live in such neighborhoods. Moreover, in regions where the poor are more segregated into poor places, the dampening effect on mobility extends beyond distressed neighborhoods to lower economic mobility for the region as a whole.