Category Archives: Stubborn Poverty

Our Cities/Metro Areas Need Attention


I live in a small city in the center of New York State which has been hit hard by globalization. I know some people blame trade agreements, or Obama, or high taxes but I do not. I think that corporations were set to salivating at the thought of distant places with very cheap labor and no environmental regulations and low overheads. Once the first little lemming jumped continents there was a stampede to the newest Capitalist nirvana (a Communist country – who would have thought). There was the added incentive of all those brand new consumers to satisfy. Manufacturers saw an opportunity-vacuum and they filled it, because we know how nature abhors a vacuum.

My small city lost business after business. Empty factories still sit everywhere, or have been torn down or repurposed. Corporate names have disappeared from local landmarks. But what I was not seeing, or at least not clearly, was brought to my attention by an online article. It was a study at The Cultural Foundation saying that my hometown, Syracuse, NY, had the most stubborn and most segregated areas of poverty in all of America.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

The Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy by Paul A. Gargowsky

Over the past year, scenes of civil unrest have played out in the deteriorating inner-ring suburb of Ferguson and the traditional urban ghetto of inner-city Baltimore. The proximate cause of these conflicts has been brutal interactions between police and unarmed black men, leading to protests that include violent confrontations with police, but no single incident can explain the full extent of the protesters’ rage and frustration. The riots and protests—which have occurred in racially-segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods, bringing back images of the “long, hot summers” of the 1960s—have sparked a national conversation about race, violence, and policing that is long overdue.

Something important, however, is being left out of this conversation: namely, that we are witnessing a nationwide return of concentrated poverty that is racial in nature, and that this expansion and continued existence of high-poverty ghettos and barrios is no accident. These neighborhoods are not the value-free outcome of the impartial workings of the housing market. Rather, in large measure, they are the inevitable and predictable consequences of deliberate policy choices.

To address the root causes of urban violence, police-community tensions, and the enduring legacy of racism, the genesis of urban slums and the forces that sustain them must be understood. As a first step in that direction, this report examines the trends in the population and characteristics of neighborhoods of extreme deprivation.  Some of the key findings include:

  • There was a dramatic increase in the number of high-poverty neighborhoods.


  • The number of people living in high-poverty ghettos, barrios, and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million.


  • These increases were well under way before the Great Recession began.


  • Poverty became more concentrated—more than one in four of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor.


  • To make matters worse, poor children are more likely to reside in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor adults.


  • The fastest growth in black concentration of poverty (12.6 percentage points) since 2000 was not in the largest cities, but in metropolitan areas with 500,000 to 1 million persons.

This report discusses these trends in the context of the policy choices that helped to construct this architecture of segregation, and makes suggestions on how it can be overcome.

Figure 8 which is an interactive graphic and cannot be copied shows High-Poverty Census Tracts in Syracuse Metropolitan Area.

After the graphic the author notes:

The fastest rate of growth in concentrated poverty for whites (5.5 percentage points) and for Hispanics (7.4 percentage points) was in even smaller metropolitan areas: those with 250,000 to 500,000 person, such as Flint, Michigan; Lubbock, Texas; and Reading, Pennsylvania.

More from this study:

Public Policy and the Concentration of Poverty

Recent economic troubles have clearly contributed to the sharp re-concentration of poverty since 2000. But another huge factor, in good economic times and bad, has been rampant suburban and exurban development. Suburbs have grown so fast that their growth was cannibalistic: it came at the expense of the central city and older suburbs.15 In virtually all metropolitan areas, suburban rings grew much faster than was needed to accommodate metropolitan population growth, so that the central cities and inner-ring suburbs saw massive population declines. The recent trend toward gentrification is barely a ripple compared to the massive surge to the suburbs since about 1970. Moreover, taxpayers funded all the new infrastructure needed to facilitate suburban expansion—roads, schools, water and sewer, and so on—even as existing infrastructure was abandoned and underutilized in the urban core.16

The population movements were also highly selective. Through exclusionary zoning and outright housing market discrimination, the upper-middle class and affluent could move to the suburbs, and the poor were left behind.17 Public and assisted housing units were often constructed in ways that reinforced existing spatial disparities.18 Now, with gentrification driving up property values, rents, and taxes in many urban cores, some of the poor are moving out of central cities into decaying inner-ring suburbs.

And indeed this next study shows income decay in suburban neighborhoods which are part of the metropolitan areas of some of our cities.

A Second Study:

The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012

By: Elizabeth Kneebone

The economically turbulent 2000s have redrawn America’s geography of poverty in more ways than one. After two downturns and subsequent recoveries that failed to reach down the economic ladder, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today, more of those residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty.1

But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the late 1990s.

The challenges of poor neighborhoods—including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities—make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations.2 These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of people living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 5 million.

The suburban poor accounted for a growing share of residents living in concentrated poverty in the 2000s.

Suburbs in the Sun Belt experienced some of the steepest increases in concentrated disadvantage.

Demographic differences between lower-poverty and higher-poverty suburban neighborhoods narrowed during the 2000s.

There are charts and tables to support each point, too many to show here.


Although severely concentrated disadvantage remains a predominantly urban phenomenon, suburbs now have nearly as many poor residents in high-poverty neighborhoods as cities. If these communities are ignored, they could become areas of concentrated poverty over time. Combatting poverty in distressed neighborhoods remains a pressing priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and regional leaders should also be looking “upstream” to halt the progression of concentrated disadvantage before it crosses the 40 percent threshold. The fact that so many of these neighborhoods and residents are located in suburbs only adds to the challenge and the need for urgency, because many of these communities are ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the needs of a growing and increasingly concentrated low-income population.

Given the limited resources at hand to address these challenges, effectively tackling the scope of today’s need necessitates more integrated and cross-cutting approaches. Policymakers and practitioners can learn from regional leaders who are finding innovative ways of making limited resources stretch further to confront the regional scale of poverty. These leaders are crafting approaches that work across urban and suburban boundaries and connect decisions around housing, transportation, workforce development, and jobs to provide stronger pathways between low-income residents and regional economic opportunity, regardless of where they live.

Me again-

If you are like me you have few ideas about how to solve the decay in and around our cities. Jobs and a healthy economy would surely go a long way towards alleviating this downward trend, but recession alone does not explain why our minorities are so consistently poor and why they are so trapped in inner city neighborhoods where services are poor, budgets are tight and people are not thriving.

If architecture and real estate have been used to discriminate then perhaps some attention to these areas may help get us out of this stubborn pattern. Even if we don’t find ways to get our economy humming along again we still need to tackle this stuff. With smaller local budgets at all levels (think Flint, Michigan) we will need to be really creative, really compassionate, and practice lots of that tolerance and civility that we believe in so strongly but which we are having such a hard time accessing. Solving housing problems might also help solve the problems in some of our schools. And it might free up the creativity of people who are too busy surviving to tap into their higher order skills.

By Nancy Brisson