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


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
  • 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