Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems: The Dramatic Decline of Concentrated Poverty in the 1990s

Findings

A national analysis of high-poverty neighborhoods, and the concentration of poor individuals in those neighborhoods, in 1990 and 2000 indicates that:

  • The number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods—where the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher—declined by a dramatic 24 percent, or 2.5 million people, in the 1990s. This improvement marked a significant turnaround from the 1970-1990 period, during which the population in high-poverty neighborhoods doubled.

  • The steepest declines in high-poverty neighborhoods occurred in metropolitan areas in the Midwest and South. In Detroit, for instance, the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods dropped nearly 75 percent over the decade.

  • Concentrated poverty—the share of the poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods—declined among all racial and ethnic groups, especially African Americans. The share of poor black individuals living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined from 30 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2000.

  • The number of high-poverty neighborhoods declined in rural areas and central cities, but suburbs experienced almost no change. A number of older, inner-ring suburbs around major metropolitan areas actually experienced increases in poverty over the decade, though poverty rates there generally remain well below 40 percent.

While the 1990s brought a landmark reversal of decades of increasingly concentrated poverty, the recent economic downturn and the weakening state of many older suburbs underscore that the trend may reverse once again without continued efforts to promote economic and residential opportunity for low-income families.