Concentrated poverty

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Concentrated poverty refers to a spatial density of socio-economic deprivation. In the US, it is commonly used in fields of policy and scholarship in reference to areas of "extreme" or "high-poverty" defined by the US census as areas with "40 percent of the tract population living below the federal poverty threshold."[1] A large body of literature argues that these areas of concentrated poverty place additional burdens on poor families that live within them, beyond what the families' own individual circumstances would dictate. The research also indicates that areas of concentrated poverty can have wider effects on surrounding neighborhoods that are not classified as "high-poverty," thus limiting overall economic potential and social cohesion.[2]


The Invention of the Measure[edit]

There have long been areas of concentrated poverty, and the distinct social problems of concentrated poverty, which exacerbate individual impoverishment have been the grounds of reform movements and studies since the mid-19th Century. However, the measure of concentrated poverty and the coalescence around an analytical conception of concentrated poverty occurred only in the 1970s. This more recent focus on concentrated poverty grew largely out of concern about the nation’s inner cities in the wake of ongoing deindustrialization, civil unrest in the late 1960s, and the rapid suburbanization and out-migration that followed. In most cases, these poor inner city locations were populated predominantly by minorities, and many featured large public housing developments.

The definition for "low-income areas" first developed by the Bureau of the Census as part of its work for the newly established Office of Economic Opportunity, a new bureaucracy designed to administer most of the War on Poverty Programs created as a part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society legislative agenda.[3] The goal was to identify areas of major concentrations of poverty within large metropolitan areas. The original definition was formed through an attribute-based criterion. Each census tract was ranked by an equally weighted measurement of (1) an area's income, (2) level of education, (3) number of single-parent households, (4) percentage of low-skilled workers, and (5) quality of the housing stock. The lowest quartile from the rankings were then designated "low income." The 1970 census took the earlier attribute-based measure and translated it into a purely statistical one - defining "low-income areas" as census tracts with 20%-39% of its inhabitants falling below the poverty line and designating areas of "high-poverty" or “extreme poverty” as those with 40% or more of its inhabitants falling under the poverty line. The 20% threshold adopted in 1970 was derived by calibrating a statistic of household income that most closely approximated the 1960 lower quartile. The 40% threshold to designate "high-poverty areas" was set by doubling the low-income threshold. This 40% threshold became the common definition of "concentrated poverty" in policy and scholarly research.

Another measure of concentrated poverty used for larger geographical areas was later developed by Paul Jargowsky. His rate expresses the proportion of all poor individuals in a certain area (e.g., city, metropolitan region, or county) who live in census tracts of high poverty.[4] Later, Jargowsky uses the concept of concentrated poverty to refer more specifically to the "proportion of the poor in some region city or region that resides in high-poverty neighborhoods" as opposed to a territorial designation of high-poverty neighborhoods[5]

The Invention of the Concept[edit]

The first major work of scholarship to utilize the census measure to study the changing spatial trends of poverty, as well as its causes and effects, was William Julius Wilson in his book The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass, and Public Policy.[6] His findings revealed that tracts of concentrated poverty increased dramatically, not only in Chicago, but throughout metropolitan areas of the United States during the 1970s, as did the population of poor people residing within them. These trends related specifically to an African American "underclass" in America's inner city (see trends below). In this work, Wilson utilizes concentrated poverty as an analytic measure to gauge the changing spatial organization and intensification of poverty, as a territorial category to designate an object of analysis, and also as a causal factor in and of itself, effecting life chances among the poor. All three of these conceptualizations have since served as the basis for a wide range of social science research as well as policy interventions and prescriptions.

Analytic Measure[edit]

Wilson's study set the precedent of using the census' 40% threshold and this has been adopted as the standard measure to study trends of poverty and poor neighborhoods. This is largely due to the measure's convenience rather than any strong conceptual justification. The measure is used to compare degree of poverty concentration between areas and the growth or decline in the number of tracts that fit this qualification in a given city, region, or country.

Critiques of the measure have been leveled against both the federal definition of poverty as well as the census definition of concentrated poverty by the 40% threshold. In both cases, the overall discussion has questioned the use of a bureaucratic category designed to facilitate the routine collection of statistics and the determination of eligibility of public assistance, geared to managerial concerns of the state as being unfit for capturing urban social structures and strategies. Criticisms of the poverty threshold are legion,[7] the most salient being the inability to fully consider the needs of different family types (e.g.: the need for childcare services, health insurance, etc.), the non-cash benefits from public sources, the cash and non-cash resources or lack thereof from social and familial networks, and the consideration of regional variations in cost of living expenses.

At the same time, the 40 percent benchmark used by the census and scholars to define concentrated poverty does not refer to any adequately specified objective or subjective criteria. Jargowsky and Bane (1991) assert “...that the 40 percent criterion came very close to identifying areas that looked like ghettos in terms of their housing conditions” (p. 239). They contend that “the areas selected by the 40 percent criterion corresponded closely with the neighborhoods that city officials and local Census Bureau officials considered ghettos” (p. 239). Thus, these scholars argued that although “any fixed cutoff is inherently arbitrary...the 40 percent criterion appropriately identifies most ghetto neighborhoods” (p. 239). Here we see that the use of the threshold is justified on the basis of a general personal impressions and impressions of city officials rather than any rigorous objective criteria.[8]

Aside from the contention over the selection of a particular percentage threshold as an accurate descriptive measure (i.e. 30% vs. 60% threshold of residents in poverty), other scholars have criticized the use of an absolute indicator of poverty concentration as an analytic measure and tool to track trends. For instance, Massey and Eggers contend that a relative indicator based on segregation is more rigorous and meaningful, claiming that ". . .levels and trends in poverty concentration are best studied with well-established measures of segregation that use complete information on the spatial distribution of income instead of an ad hoc and arbitrary definition of 'poverty neighborhoods' and 'poverty concentration'"[9]

Jennifer Wolch and Nathan Sessoms have challenged the utility of the traditional concept of concentrated poverty based on the 40% threshold due to the recent growth of working poor populations and the emergence of inner-suburban poverty.[10] Their study shows that several areas in Southern California, which meet the 40% threshold do not demonstrate the characteristics traditionally associated with areas of concentrated poverty and not suffer from extreme levels of dysfunction, crime, and blight, but are often reasonably clean, safe, well-maintained and home to several commercial/retail establishments, public facilities, etc. They also argue that the term has become conflated with "areas of social problems" and argue that the concept should be unhooked from behavioral definitions and stigma.

Territorial Category[edit]

As a territorial category, areas of concentrated poverty have become both key targets of place specific policy interventions as well as the object of analysis for comparative studies in policy research and the social sciences.

Several critiques have been raised against this territorial category of "concentrated poverty." First, is the question of whether census tracts are a good spatial category of social scientific analysis. A Systematic field observations in various inner-city areas reveals that census tracts are poor proxies of what residents construe and construct as neighborhoods in their daily routines.[11]

Sociologist Loic Wacquant has criticized the measure when used to denote or define “ghettos". This reference was first made by Bane and Jargowsky and William Julius Wilson (see above), and scholars increasingly conflate the two, which Wacquant claims camouflages the constitutive role of ethnoracial domination in the ghetto and hyperghetto. Wacquant claims that this income-based notion of the ghetto is "ostensibly deracialized" and largely a product of policy-geared research fearful of the "strict taboo that weighs on segregation in the political sphere".[12] Massey and Denton similarly questions the use of a purely income based measure to define these areas of deprivation, who shows with strong empirical evidence and solid theorizing that high levels of racial segregation (defined by an index of dissimilarity above 60) produce distinct socio-economic constellations and processes.[13] Wacquant also questions why it is that rural counties and suburban tracts are often left out of social science analysis of concentrated poverty.

Causal Factor[edit]

As explored more fully in the section on effects, concentrated poverty has increasingly been recognized as a "causal factor" in compounding the effects of poverty by isolating residents in these neighborhoods from networks and resources useful to realize human potential. In The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson coined these processes as "concentration effects." The primary effect is what he termed social isolation, defined as the lack of contact or of sustained interaction with individuals and institutions that represent mainstream society. This isolation makes it much more difficult for those who are looking for jobs to be tied into the job network and also generates behavior not conducive to good work histories. What is key in Wilson's idea of social isolation is that he links the behavioral outcomes of the ghetto poor to the structural constraints of the job market and historical discrimination. This goes against the theory of a "culture of poverty," which implies that basic values and attitudes of the ghetto subculture have been internalized and places a strong emphasis on the autonomous character of the cultural traits once they come into existence.[14]

A number of scholars have problematized this causal framing. For Wilson, concentrated poverty was a link between structural factors and social behaviors produced through "concentration effects", however, much subsequent policy and scholarly research have ignored these deeper causes of concentrated poverty itself. According to Agnew, "One can start out using spatial concepts as shorthand for complex sociological processes but slip easily into substituting the spatial concepts for the more complex argument.[15] Steinberg has claimed that this amounts to misdiagnosing the symptom as the disease, as the structural factors are severed from the spatial outcome, policy prescriptions to address concentrated poverty have shifted from economic policies to encourage full-employment to simply deconcentrating poverty (see section below).[16] As Goetz observed, “Over time, focus has shifted away from the causes of concentrated poverty toward the behavior of the poor in response to concentrated poverty," which ultimately has led to reproducing the "culture of poverty" thesis in severing the theory from its structural roots.[17]


This changing spatial distribution of poverty has been attributed to a number of structural factors, primarily in the economic sphere, and occurring since the 1970s.[18] (From William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass, and Public Policy).

  • Racial Discrimination and Segregation: Blacks were discriminated against far more severely in the early twentieth century than were the new white immigrants. Through restrictive covenants, municipal policies, and federal housing programs, blacks, unlike other immigrant groups, were forced into particular areas inner cities. At the same time blacks were discriminated far more severely than other groups in the labor market making them disproportionately poor and concentrated in low-paying jobs, particularly in the industrial sector. Collectively these forms of racial and spatial discrimination laid the basis for most areas of contemporary concentrated poverty.
  • Deindustrialization: As mentioned above, because blacks were concentrated in the low-wage sector of the economy due to discrimination and prejudice, they are more adversely affected by impersonal economic shifts in advanced industrial society. Their heavy concentration in the automobile, rubber, steel, and other smokestack industries meant that they were particularly hit hard by deindustrialization occurring in US cities from the 70s onward. In other words, minorities, particularly poor and working-class minorities, are not only adversely affected by periodic recessions, they are also vulnerable to the structural economic changes in the past two decades because of economic cutbacks, plant closings, and relocation of firms to cheaper labor sites in the suburbs.
  • Increasing Gap between Skilled and Unskilled Workers: Many of the new jobs that emerged in the post-1970s economy have been disproportionately in the service and knowledge sectors. These sectors are marked by large inequalities in wages, and has lowered the average income of households compared to those that had held better paying industrial jobs in the past (see Working Poor)
  • Spatial Mismatch: With the expansion of the suburbs, economic growth shifted from the inner cities to the suburbs. The inner city poor were largely cut off from taking advantage of these new opportunities due to their spatial distance.
  • White Flight: A large scale migration of wealthier whites from the inner city occurred with the construction of the federal highway system and expansion of federal mortgage programs. These patterns were also driven by increased fears and anxieties of minority populations. This increased the proportion of both poor and black people in urban populations while eroding municipal tax bases, leading toward a downward spiral in the provision of public services as well as job opportunities and economic development.
  • Flight of the Black Middle Class: As the civil rights movement ended racial restrictions on federal housing loans and programs, and opened up limited opportunities for black mobility, many of the better-off blacks in inner cities moved to mixed neighborhoods or satellite suburbs. This increased the proportion of poor within the ghetto and also weakened civic institutions and investment in the local economy.
  • Changes in the Age Structure: In the years concentrated poverty was increasing so was the proportion of African American youth in central cities. The number of central-city blacks aged fourteen to twenty-four rose by 78% from 1960–1970, compared with an increase of only 23% for whites of the same age.This younger demographic balance in minority neighborhoods contributes to rises in crime, out-of-wedlock birth, unemployment, and other factors associated with poverty.
  • Changes in Family Structure: In 1965, 25% of all black families were headed by women. The proportion surpassed 28% in 1970, reached 40 percent by 1979, registered at 43% in 1984, and 72% by 2010.[19] Because poverty is measured at the household level, rather than the individual, such demographic changes inevitably increase the poverty rate. Furthermore, several studies have shown that women, particularly, single-mothers are disproportionately poor to a number of factors (see Feminization of Poverty)


Several recent studies have pointed to the role of "neighborhood effects" caused by concentrated poverty. These studies have illustrated that crime and delinquency, education, psychological distress, and various health problems, among many other issues, are affected by neighborhood characteristics, particularly the concentration of poverty. Thresholds, or tipping points, also prove important.[20] In a recent review of research, Galster notes that studies suggest “that the independent impacts of neighborhood poverty rates in encouraging negative outcomes for individuals like crime, school leaving, and duration of poverty spells appear to be nil unless the neighborhood exceeds about 20 percent poverty, whereupon the externality effects grow rapidly until the neighborhood reaches approximately 40 percent poverty; subsequent increases in the poverty population appear to have no marginal effect.”[21] Housing values and rents show a similar pattern. Using data from the 100 largest U.S. metro areas from 1990 to 2000, Galster et al. find little relationship between neighborhood poverty rates and decline in neighborhood housing values and rents until poverty exceeds 10 percent, at which point values decline rapidly before becoming shallower at very high poverty levels.[22]

One of the largest studies examining the effects of concentrated poverty was completed by the Pew Economic Mobility Project which tracked 5,000 families since 1968 and found that no other factor, including parents' education, employment, or marital status, was as important as neighborhood poverty in explaining why African-American children were so much more likely to have lower incomes than their parents as adults.[23] Thus, the concentrated poverty rate aims to capture the extent of a possible “double burden” imposed on poor families living in extremely poor communities; both being poor and living in a poor community. The study also found negative effects on the better-off children raised in such areas, as well. While initial research failed to isolate the direct effects of "concentrated poverty" in and of itself, more recent work has shifted to identifying the mechanisms that matter. Rather than focusing solely on the socio-economic characteristics of neighborhoods, this scholarship to examining the social-interactive and institutional aspects produced through concentrated poverty. Below is an overview of these effects and mechanisms.[24][25]

Mechanisms of Concentrated Poverty Effects[edit]

(From George C. Galster, "The Mechanism(s) of Neighborhood Effects: Theory, Evidence, and Policy Implications).

Social Interactive Effects[edit]

This set of mechanisms refers to social processes endogenous to neighborhoods. These processes include:

  • Social Contagion: Behaviors, aspirations, and attitudes may be changed by contact with peers who are neighbors. Under certain conditions these changes can take on contagion dynamics that are akin to “epidemics.”
  • Collective Socialization: Individuals may be encouraged to conform to local social norms conveyed by neighborhood role models and other social pressures. This socialization effect is characterized by a minimum threshold or critical mass being achieved before a norm can produce noticeable consequences for others in the neighborhood.
  • Social Networks: Individuals may be influenced by the interpersonal communication of information and resources of various kinds transmitted through neighbors. These networks can involve either “strong ties” and/or “weak ties.”
  • Social cohesion and control: The degree of neighborhood social disorder and its converse, “collective efficacy" may influence a variety of behaviors and psychological reactions of residents.
  • Relative Deprivation: This mechanism suggests that residents who have achieved some socioeconomic success will be a source of disamenities for their less-well off neighbors. The latter, it is argued, will view the successful with envy and/or will make them perceive their own relative inferiority as a source of dissatisfaction.
  • Parental Mediation: The neighborhood may affect (through any of the mechanisms listed under all categories here) parents’ physical and mental health, stress, coping skills, sense of efficacy, behaviors, and material resources. All of these, in turn, may affect the home environment in which children are raised.

Environmental Effects[edit]

Environmental mechanisms refer to natural and human-made attributes of the local space that may affect directly the mental and/or physical health of residents without affecting their behaviors. As in the case of social-interactive mechanism, the environmental category can also assume distinct forms:

  • Exposure to Violence: If people sense that their property or person is in danger they may suffer psychological and physical responses that may impair their functioning or sensed well-being. These consequences are likely to be even more pronounced if the person has been victimized.
  • Physical Surroundings: Decayed physical conditions of the built environment (e.g., deteriorated structures and public infrastructure, litter, graffiti) may impart psychological effects on residents,

Geographical Effects[edit]

Geographic mechanisms refer to aspects of spaces that may affect residents’ life courses yet do not arise within the neighborhood but rather purely because of the neighborhood’s location relative to larger-scale political and economic forces such as:

  • Spatial Mismatch: Certain neighborhoods may have little accessibility (in either spatial proximity or as mediated by transportation networks) to job opportunities appropriate to the skills of their residents, thereby restricting their employment opportunities.
  • Public Services: Some neighborhoods may be located within local political jurisdictions that offer inferior public services and facilities because of their limited tax base resources, incompetence, corruption, or other operational challenges. These, in turn, may adversely affect the personal development and educational opportunities of residents.

Institutional Effects[edit]

The last category of mechanisms involves actions by those typically not residing in the given neighborhood who control important institutional resources located there and/or points of interface between neighborhood residents and vital markets:

  • Stigmatization: Neighborhoods may be stigmatized on the basis of public stereotypes held by powerful institutional or private actors about its current residents. In other cases this may occur regardless of the neighborhood’s current population because of its history, environmental or topographical disamenities, style, scale and type of dwellings, or condition of their commercial districts and public spaces. Such stigma may reduce the opportunities and perceptions of residents of stigmatized areas in a variety of ways, such as job opportunities and self-esteem.
  • Local Institutional Resources: Some neighborhoods may have access to few and/or high-quality private, non-profit, or public institutions and organizations, such as benevolent charities, day care facilities, schools, and medical clinics. The lack of same may adversely affect the personal development opportunities of residents.
  • Local Market Actors: There may be substantial spatial variations in the prevalence of certain private market actors that may encourage or discourage certain behaviors by neighborhood residents, such as liquor stores, fresh food markets, fast food restaurants, and illegal drug markets.

American Trends[edit]


Between 1970 and 1990 the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods - where the poverty rate is 40% or higher - doubled. Because the measure was not used in the US census until 1970, the first time trends of poverty concentration were studied systematically was after the release of the 1980 census. Sociologist William Julius Wilson found that during the 1970s, (1) poverty increased dramatically throughout metropolitan areas of the United States; (2) at the same time, the number of poor people residing within these areas increased; and (3) this exacerbation of poverty conditions occurred primarily within African American neighborhoods. Several scholars would go on to affirm that in the 1970s America saw a dramatic increase in the number of neighborhoods that classified as areas of concentrated poverty[26] This trend extended to a lesser extent in the 1980s, as the number of neighborhoods qualifying as areas of "extreme poverty" continued to increase, but at a slower rate than it had throughout the 1970s.[27] These trends of concentrated poverty at the level of the census tract and neighborhood were similarly reflected at the level of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's). In both decades between 1970–1990, the differential between the poverty rates of central cities and their suburbs increased, reflecting an increasing spatial concentration of MSA poverty within central cities.[28] This changing spatial distribution of poverty has been attributed to changes in the labor market (deindustrialization, an increasing gap between wages available to skilled and unskilled workers, spatial mismatch between the types of jobs offered in the city and the type of workers residing there), declining economic growth (although several studies have shown a weak or non-existent link between reduction of poverty and urban economic growth in neighborhoods of extreme poverty), the relocation of upper- and middle-income residents from the city to the suburbs, and demographic changes (the rise in one-parent households and decrease in labor market participation). These changes were intertwined with America's history of ethno-racial segregation that produced the ghetto, white flight from American cities, which led to a declining tax base to provide city services, and the civil rights movement, which allowed better-off blacks to leave inner-city areas. Although concentrated poverty increased among blacks, Hispanics, and whites throughout 1970-1990s, increases were far more dramatic among blacks, followed by Hispanics, and then to a much lesser extent whites.[29]


The number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined by 24% or 2.5 million people, in the 1990s. The steepest declines in high-poverty neighborhoods occurred in metropolitan areas in the Midwest and South. The share of the poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined among all racial and ethnic groups. This was especially the case for African Americans, wherein the share of poor black individuals living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined from 30 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2000. This decline of high-poverty neighborhoods occurred in rural areas and central cities, but suburbs experienced almost no change.[30]

Scholars have also recognized qualitative shifts in areas of "concentrated poverty." In a study of Southern California metropolitan areas (a state which did see rises in concentrated poverty through the '90s against the national trend), Wolch and Sessoms point to the growing number of working poor populations and the emergence of inner-suburban poverty which qualify as areas of "extreme poverty" under the 40% threshold do not demonstrate the same negative social behaviors or physical decay of the traditional image that the statistic was first designed to designate. Other scholars, have alternatively argued for an expansion of the term and challenge Jargowsky's claim of decreased poverty concentration in the 1990s. Swanstrom et al. have shown that by using the relative definition of poverty as employed in Europe based on 50% of the median income in each region, the '90s actually saw an increase in concentrated poverty through most American cities[31]


Whatever gains may have been made in the reduction of concentrated poverty in the '90s, it is clear that they did not persist. Between 2000 and 2005–09, the population in extremely poor neighborhoods climbed by more than one-third, from 6.6 million to 8.7 million. The share of poor people living in these sorts of neighborhoods, and thus confronting the "double burden" of their own poverty and the poverty of those around them, grew from 9.1 percent to 10.5 percent during that time.[32] A Brookings Institution report attributes this trend to both the downturn of 2000 and the 2008 recession. This poverty not only affected inner cities, but continued to spread into the suburbs, extending the suburbanization trend of concentrated poverty first noted in the 1990s. Furthermore, the study found that the concentrated poverty rate of 2010 was approaching its all-time high, estimating that the concentrated poverty rate in U.S. metro areas grew to 15.1 percent in 2010 - up considerably from 11.7 percent in 2005-09, and nearing its 1990 high of 16.5 percent. This trend seems to confirm William Julius Wilson's original thesis that extremely poor neighborhoods and their residents are last to benefit from growth when times are good, and first to feel it when tough times arrive.

Policy interventions: deconcentration[edit]

Since the early 1990s federal housing policy has aimed at spatially deconcentrating poverty. This has been done in three ways. 1) Creating income diversity within public housing developments that continue to be owned and operated by public housing authorities under the rules of the public housing program.(2) Creating income diversity in new or redeveloped housing projects, including former public housing projects redeveloped under the HOPE VI program. (3) Encouraging the use of tenant-based housing vouchers for families to locate in neighborhoods that will improve the life opportunities of family members. Because federal housing policy was a compounding factor of concentrated between 1940–1990, through the construction of large public housing complexes the new policies aim at reversing these earlier trends.

Mobility Programs[edit]

The Moving To Opportunity (MTO) program, authorized in 1992, was a pilot program that provided Section 8 vouchers to residents of public housing so that they could move out of public housing and into lower-poverty neighborhoods. The program was modeled on the Gautreaux program in Chicago, which provided vouchers to black public housing residents so that they could move into more integrated neighborhoods. MTO, Gautreaux and smaller efforts like them were called “mobility programs,” because they enabled poor families in high-poverty neighborhoods to move into better, more integrated or more middle-class communities.

The Gatreuax program had clearer and stronger results than MTO.[33] In the case of Gatreuax, participants were assigned to urban and suburban localities. The suburban and urban participants started out identical: all were selected from the same pool of callers, and were randomly placed into private apartments in either suburban or urban locations. After several years, the suburban and urban participants had very different outcomes. The urban participants were likely to remain on the welfare rolls, but their suburban counterparts were very likely to find employment and leave welfare. The urban participants' children were likely to drop out of high school, but their suburban counterparts are likely to graduate from high school and even college. The program participants' children were initially below the academic level of their classmates, but because only a few families were moved to each suburbs, the suburban teachers could take time with each new child and tutor each child individually until the children were at the same level as their classmates. In the case of MTO, changes in employment and educational improvement were not significant and nearly half of the participants moved back or remained in their original neighborhood. Furthermore, most participants did not move into the suburbs, but instead more frequently into other nearby urban neighborhoods of lower poverty. However, the program did show significant improvements in a sense of security among the participants, which resulted in the reduction of stress, fear, and depression, particularly among women and young girls.[34]

Several scholars have questioned both the success and broader ability of such policy interventions as an adequate response to concentrated poverty. Goetz argues that voluntary programs like MTO and Gautreaux, though justifiable on other grounds, will not make a dent in concentrated poverty for two reasons: a) these programs cream, that is, they take only those families most likely to succeed in their new environments; and b) they will never reach sufficient scale to noticeably affect overall settlement patterns.[35] MTO, Gautreaux and other voluntary mobility programs can apply to only a subset of the poor by the political reality of destination communities. Low-poverty areas are not anxious to receive large numbers of poor, public housing families, and there will typically be political backlash if current residents feel that these families are being forced into their neighborhoods, and it was this type of resistance that ended the expansion of the program in 1995. Venkatesh and Celimi point out, dispersal programs incorrectly assume the poor can relocate as easily as the middle class does. In fact, very real resource constraints limit the ability of public housing families to abandon existing support networks, and these constraints limit the attractiveness of dispersal strategies to poor families.[36] Lastly, mobility programs often contribute to greater concentration and disadvantage in the communities they are applied to cream the more motivated families from the area.[37]

Hope VI[edit]

Hope VI is a federal housing plan designed to revitalize the nations public housing projects into mixed income developments. In most cases, such projects involve demolishing older high rise buildings composed entirely of extremely low-income residents and constructing higher quality, low-density, housing with various tiers of income earners.[38]

While Hope VI has successfully deconcentrated public housing sites, it has done little to deconcentrate poverty within poor neighborhoods in general.[39] Public housing families who are displaced and relocated typically reconcentrate in other poor neighborhoods nearby. Very rarely do these families relocate to low-poverty suburbs. Well over half of HOPE VI relocates either move into other public housing or use vouchers to rent units on the private market. Public housing units are, of course, likely to be in low-income neighborhoods. Families using vouchers are also likely to move into low-income areas, because it is there that they will find units with rents that are eligible for the program and landlords who are willing to rent to them.[40] Therefore, while HOPE VI has significantly improved the physical quality of several public housing sites and the lives of former residents given units in the new developments, it has failed to address the issue of concentrated poverty at large.[41]


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