By Lena Ferguson, ICIC
As we eclipse the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the question arises — where does American poverty live? Over the past few years, new studies suggest that the geography of poverty has shifted. As young professionals and baby boomers move back to the urban core, low-income residents are being pushed to the suburbs. Poverty, they argue, is now a suburban issue.
But a closer look at the data indicates that poverty remains overwhelmingly concentrated within the urban core.
Here are a few sobering statistics to offer a comparison:
– Inner cities: 3 in 10 people live in poverty
– Suburbs: 1 in 10 people live in poverty
– Inner City Poverty Rate: 32%
– Rest of Central City Poverty Rate: 9.4%
– Rest of MSA Poverty Rate (i.e. suburbs): 9.7%
– Rest of USA Poverty Rate (i.e. rural areas): 15.7%
An inner city, as defined by ICIC , is a geographic area that has a poverty rate of 20% or higher or a poverty rate of 1.5x higher than the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and an unemployment rate of 1.5 the MSA and/or a median household income of 50% or less than the MSA. Importantly, ICIC excludes student populations, which skew poverty measures.
Using ICIC’s definition, it holds true that absolute poverty is higher in the suburbs (11 million) than in inner cities (8 million). But inner cities comprise less than 1% of land area versus the suburbs which comprise 17% of total U.S. land area —nearly 100x that of inner cities. The concentration of poverty in such a small land area suggests that inner cities should be the prime target for poverty alleviation efforts.
“Despite the fact that there are a greater number of people living in poverty in America’s suburbs, poverty and unemployment remain overwhelmingly concentrated in inner cities. Programs targeting inner cities will have greater spillover effects, potentially helping a far greater number of people than programs
focused on the suburbs,” explains Kim Zeuli, Senior Vice President and Director of
Research and Advisory at ICIC.
A program located in an inner city, such as Newark, would reach a far greater number of people living in poverty than a similar size program in a Newark suburb.