News Release

Census Reveals A Steep Decline in Concentrated Poverty

May 19, 2003

The population of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined by a dramatic 24 percent, or 2.5 million people, in the 1990s, according to a new study released today by the Brookings Institution. A companion study, released today by the Urban Institute, also finds a deep drop in concentrated poverty and notes improving indicators of well-being for residents in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The studies, which draw on new data from Census 2000, show a striking reversal of two decades of soaring increases in concentrated poverty. Even more encouraging, the two reports confirm that the decline in concentrated poverty in the 1990s occurred across almost the entire racial and ethnic spectrum and in nearly every urban area of the country.

The most notable progress was made by African Americans, whose numbers in high-poverty neighborhoods fell more than one-third, from 4.8 million to 3.1 million. Among major metropolitan areas, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Chicago showed the largest declines in concentrated poverty among blacks.

In contrast to the overall trend, poverty in older inner-ring suburbs actually increased over the decade in most metropolitan areas. The number of Hispanics living in high-poverty neighborhoods rose slightly, contributing to an 87 percent increase in the population of high-poverty neighborhoods in California. In Washington, D.C., the loss of middle-class families in several neighborhoods nearly doubled the rate of black concentrated poverty in the 1990s.

These findings, from the Brookings study “Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems” by Dr. Paul A. Jargowsky, director of the Bruton Center for Development Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, build on his 1997 book Poverty and Place, which showed that concentrated poverty doubled between 1970 and 1990. Jargowsky’s new report on the decline in concentrated poverty defines high-poverty neighborhoods as census tracts where at least 40 percent of residents are poor. Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems was published as part of the Living Cities Census Series, a three-year effort by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy to document demographic changes in American metropolitan areas.

Concentrated Poverty: A Change in Course“, by G. Thomas Kingsley and Kathryn L.S. Pettit of the Urban Institute, reaches similar conclusions and also assesses changes in indicators of well-being between 1990 and 2000 for residents of high-poverty neighborhoods in metropolitan areas. The report finds in these neighborhoods that adult educational levels rose, the share of families with children headed by women declined, employment among female adults rose, and the share of households receiving public assistance fell by 50 percent. Concentrated Poverty: A Change in Course was published by the Urban Institute as part of their policy brief series titled “Neighborhood Change in Urban America”, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, a Living Cities investor.

“The decline in concentrated poverty represents, in part, the triumph of smart federal policies that demolished failed public housing, rewarded work, and overhauled welfare,” said Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. “The Bush administration now wants to reverse course on these policies, jeopardizing the significant progress made in the past decade. Congress should reject these harmful proposals and continue to support and sustain the revitalization of inner-city neighborhoods.”

Margery Turner, director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said “These findings are encouraging. They show that improvements are possible, even in severely distressed neighborhoods. The evidence does not justify complacency, however. Too many families and children still live in profoundly poor communities, cut off from economic and social opportunities. And since the year 2000 represented the peak of the economic boom, we may well have lost ground since then.”

“The strength of America is inextricably tied to the condition of our cities,” said Living Cities Chief Executive Officer Reese Fayde. “Research from the Living Cities Census Series validates our belief that strong public policies, when combined with public/private investments, greatly improve the prosperity of urban neighborhoods and city residents across the nation.”

This research is sponsored by Living Cities, a public/private partnership of foundations, financial institutions and government agencies dedicated to the development of America’s urban neighborhoods. Since 1991, Living Cities: The National Community Development Initiative (formerly known as NCDI) has invested over $370 million to help local community development corporations (CDCs) complete housing and economic development projects in 23 cities. The organization uses the lessons from its community development work to engage in policy development and national research. Through the Living Cities Census Series, Brookings conducts comparative analysis of major metropolitan trends, as well as provides census information tailored to those specific cities. For more information on Living Cities, media can contact Robin Walker, director of communications, at 212-663-2078 or walker@livingcities.org.

Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems can be downloaded from the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy website at https://www.brookings.edu/urban. For author interviews and additional materials, the news media should contact Steve Bowers of the Brookings Institution at (202) 797-6414 or sbowers@brookings.edu.

Concentrated Poverty: A Change in Course can be downloaded from the Urban Institute website at http://www.urban.org./nnip. For author interviews with G. Thomas Kingsley or Kathryn L.S. Pettit and additional collateral materials, the news media should contact Susan Brown of the Urban Institute at (202) 261-5702 or sbrown@ui.urban.org. The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic and governance challenges facing the nation.

The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy is committed to shaping a new generation of policies that will help build strong neighborhoods, cities, and metropolitan regions. Learn more at brookings-edu-2023.go-vip.net/urban.

About Brookings

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to conduct in-depth, nonpartisan research to improve policy and governance at local, national, and global levels.