Ghetto tax

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Payday lenders, which typically charge high interest rates, are more common in lower-income neighborhoods

A ghetto tax, also known as a cost of poverty,[1] a cost of being poor, or the poor pay more,[2] is the phenomenon of people with lower incomes, particularly those living in low-income areas, incurring higher expenses, paying more not only in terms of money, but also in time, health, and opportunity costs.[3][4][5] "Costs of poverty" can also refer to the costs to the broader society in which poverty exists.[6][7]

Economic principles[edit]

A ghetto tax is not a tax in literal sense. It is a situation in which people pay higher costs for equivalent goods or services simply because they are poor or live in a poor area. A paper by the Brookings Institution, titled From Poverty, Opportunity: Putting the Market to Work for Lower Income Families,[8] is widely cited as a study into ghetto taxes, although the report itself does not use the term.[3][9][10]

The problem of ghetto taxes is closely associated with mobility; one study in the United States showed that higher prices might be prevalent in some neighborhoods, but people with access to a car would have more access to affordable goods and services elsewhere, whilst those without a car would bear the brunt of higher local prices.[4][11]


  • Consumer finance: Lower income consumers are much more reliant upon alternative financial services that are more expensive, such as check cashers and payday lenders, pawnshops, and auto-title lenders.[9] For those with a traditional bank, customers who can maintain a minimum bank balance can avoid fees, such as monthly fees, or qualify for higher interest rates on their deposits, while overdrafts can rack up hundreds of dollars of debt in just a few days. There are fewer ATMs in poor areas, and often they are third-party machines that charge fees to all users. An area with inadequate access to traditional financial services is known as a banking desert.
  • Health: Poorer people have worse and more expensive health conditions,[2] and poorer neighborhoods have fewer doctors' offices, medical facilities, and pharmacies, a phenomenon known as a medical desert or pharmacy desert.[12] People with no or low-quality health insurance receive less preventive and routine health care, leading to poorer health. Medically harmful environmental pollution can be higher in minority neighborhoods, such as in fenceline communities.
  • Transportation: Poorer neighborhoods tend to have fewer nearby jobs, requiring longer commutes and higher transportation costs in terms of both time and money. This can decrease employment opportunities, increasing unemployment.[13] Public transportation tends to underserve poorer areas, a situation known as a transit desert, which can reduce access to quality schools, health care, food, and other products at affordable prices.[14] Poorer neighborhoods often have fewer street and sidewalk improvements, including curb ramps that help not only disabled people using wheelchairs, walkers, and canes, but also people with babies using strollers, and those engaging in exercise such as cycling. These inequalities are known as the transport divide. Highways tend to be routed through poorer neighborhoods, carving up communities and walling them off from more prosperous areas.[15]
  • Groceries: Small dollar stores that provide little to no fresh food tend to cluster in low-income neighborhoods, driving out fuller service grocery stores and supermarkets that provide more fresh food.[16][17] The price of fresh food then becomes more expensive due to the added costs of the consumer's transportation to more distant stores in both time and money, or because stores that stock fresh food in low-income communities do so at higher prices, due to factors such as fewer economies of scale in purchasing power, sales volume, and managing the supply chain of perishable food.[18][5] Other stores that may provide food to low-income areas include gas stations and convenience stores, neither of which tend to carry much fresh food. Areas without access to fresh food are known as food deserts.
  • General retail: Although studies have reached different conclusions, there is evidence to suggest that the poor and wealthy pay roughly the same prices when buying the same products.[19] However, inflation on basic, low-priced goods purchased by lower-income consumers can rise faster than on goods purchased by higher-income earners.[20] Rent-to-own and consumer financing terms tend to have high interest rates and are mostly used by people unable to pay the full costs of their purchases up-front.[9] Poorer consumers are less able to afford bulk purchases, losing out on volume discounts.[21] A particular case of higher retail costs and health costs converging involves cigarettes, with poorer people more likely to have a nicotine addiction in part due to cigarette marketing targeting low-income communities.[22] In addition to the health costs of tobacco use, the unit price to purchase cigarettes is higher in a single pack vs. a larger carton, and can be higher still when purchased as individual cigarettes, whether legally or illegally. While illegal purchases of single cigarettes can avoid taxes, they carry the risk of costly criminal penalties.[23]
  • Utilities: Consumers without sufficient credit or who have missed utility payments may be charged high deposits or connection fees to receive utilities.[24] Low-income consumers may have prepaid electricity, and rates can be higher than with a contract.[25] The consequence of prepaid electricity running out can range from refrigerated food spoiling to going without lights, heat, internet, and economic opportunity. Poor people are also more likely to pay higher prices for long-distance phone calls.[26]
  • Taxes: Sales taxes are highly regressive, with poor families in the U.S. paying nearly eight times more of their income in sales taxes than the wealthiest families due to spending more of their smaller paychecks on buying goods, and having less left over to save and invest.[27] States have moved to raise sales taxes even higher, while cutting progressive income taxes that target higher-income earners.[28] The United States taxes workers at higher rates than those who make their money from investments, due to taxes being lower on capital gains than on income. Cuts to capital gains have been a major contributor to rising income inequality in the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service.[29]
  • Government services: When government services involve more complicated and frequent application, maintenance, and renewal processes, and more requirements and preconditions, fewer people end up receiving those services, and poorer people with fewer resources are more likely to be excluded. Florida made the process of applying for unemployment more difficult in order to reduce claims, according to the governor.[30][31] There are inefficiencies in the unemployment system elsewhere in the U.S.[32] People with more expensive homes in wealthier areas are more likely to be approved for disaster aid from FEMA than people with more affordable homes in poorer areas, and difficulties with the application process play a role.[33][34][35] FEMA is also more likely to buy out homes in wealthier areas.[36] Certain aid only goes to communities that can already afford to pay a portion of the aid costs.[37] The Army Corps of Engineers uses a cost-benefit analysis that favors protecting more expensive homes with flood control systems.[33]
  • Small business loans: Attempts to provide more resources to underserved neighborhoods can be challenged by banks' reluctance to provide loans to businesses in low-income areas, as well as costlier loan terms.[38][39] Business insurance can also cost more in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Insurance: Poorer people are less likely to have money to pay for insurance coverage, leaving them more vulnerable to financial losses after adverse impacts.[40]
  • Employment: Some states and localities have lower minimum wages than others.[41] Low-income earners tend to be wage earners who have fewer employment benefits than salaried employees. Contracted or subcontracted employees have even fewer benefits and protections. A lack of employee health insurance can lead to workers incurring large medical debts when they get sick. A lack of parental leave can lead to workers losing their jobs when they have children. A lack of retirement benefits can lead the elderly to spend more or all of their would-be retirement years working. A lack of paid time off can increase stress and adversely impact health. A lack of sick days can not only reduce health outcomes, but can additionally impact the health of coworkers if the illness is infectious. U.S. unemployment insurance is not generally available to workers who aren't considered employees, which may include janitors, drivers, cafeteria workers, meatpackers, and others who can be contracted or subcontracted rather than employed.
  • Education: Underfunded schools, and poorer education outcomes, can lead to lower lifetime earnings. Schools may also lack nurses, counselors, and modern technology.
  • Environment: Lower-income and minority areas have often been targeted as sites for environmental hazards or general hazards to property values that those with more political power don't want in their neighborhoods,[42] increasing costs to poor people's health and decreasing the net worth of the neighborhoods' homeowners. Such hazards can include landfills, power plants, chemical plants, oil wells, oil and chemical pipelines, industrial parks, sewage treatment plants, fracking sites, incinerators, quarries, prisons, adult entertainment clubs, railways, highways, airports, and seaports. Routing highways and other major thoroughfares through minority neighborhoods not only increased pollution in those communities,[43] it also eliminated many minority communities,[44] or created barriers that cut those communities off from their more prosperous surroundings,[45] surroundings that certain families, including black families, were historically barred from moving to due to redlining and other housing discrimination. Prior to being carved through by highways, minority neighborhoods were often severed by railways, inspiring the phrase, "the wrong side of the tracks."[46]
  • Justice system: Poor people are more likely than wealthier people to be fined or jailed for the same crime,[47] or to be wrongfully convicted of a crime,[48] and poor neighborhoods can be targeted for more police enforcement actions than wealthier neighborhoods.[49] Courts can impose fines and fees that result in court debt, incarceration, and driver's license suspension for those who can't pay.[50] Courts can impose cash bail, requiring the accused, while presumed innocent, to make a refundable cash deposit in order to get out of jail before a trial, with the money not refunded if the accused is not on time for all of their court dates. Someone who is unable to pay the full bail amount may purchase a bail bond, under which the accused pays a non-refundable percentage of the bail amount and promises collateral like a car, home, or jewelry to the bond issuer in return for the bond issuer paying the full bail amount to the court.[51] A bond issuer may hire a bounty hunter to capture a creditor who does not appear in court. While in jail, the accused can be charged high fees for communications such as phone calls and emails, and for commissary items.[52][53]
  • Crime: Housing tends to be more affordable in neighborhoods with higher crime rates,[54] and poorer people are therefore more likely to become victims of crimes that cost money to recover from.[55] Crime deterrence measures, such as security systems, can pose additional costs.[56]

Costs of poverty to the broader society[edit]

Poverty not only creates costs for those experiencing it, but also for the broader society in which poverty exists.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Hidden Costs of Poverty". The Billfold. 2018-10-19. Retrieved 2021-02-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b Kaplan, George A. (September 2009). "The Poor Pay More — Poverty's High Cost to Health" (PDF). University of Michigan.
  3. ^ a b Eckholm, Erik (19 July 2006). "Study Documents 'Ghetto Tax' Being Paid by the Urban Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  4. ^ a b Talukdar, Debabrata (2008). "Cost of Being Poor: Retail Price and Consumer Price Search Differences across Inner-City and Suburban Neighborhoods". Journal of Consumer Research. 35 (3): 457. doi:10.1086/589563. JSTOR 589563.
  5. ^ a b Brown, DeNeen L. (2009-05-18). "The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ a b Holzer, Harry J.; Schanzenbach, Diane Whitmore; Duncan, Greg J.; Ludwig, Jens. "The Economic Costs of Poverty". Center for American Progress. Retrieved 2021-02-03.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ a b "Costs of Poverty Fact Sheet". Poor People's Campaign. 2020-06-09. Retrieved 2021-02-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "From Poverty, Opportunity: Putting the Market to Work for Lower Income Families". Brookings Institution. July 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Fellowes, Matt (July 2006). "From Poverty, Opportunity: Putting the Market to Work for Lower Income Families" (PDF). Brookings Institution.
  10. ^ Katz, Rob (3 August 2006). "The Ghetto Tax". Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Georgetown Law Faculty Blog: Market Failures Mean The Poor Still Pay More". 20 July 2006. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  12. ^ Olumhense, Ese; Husain, Nausheen (2018-01-22). "'Pharmacy deserts' a growing health concern in Chicago, experts, residents say". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2021-01-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ "The growing distance between people and jobs in metropolitan America". Brookings Institution. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  14. ^ White, Gillian B. (2015-05-16). "Our Struggling Public Transportation System Is Failing America's Poor". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  15. ^ Halsey III, Ashley (2016-03-29). "A crusade to defeat the legacy of highways rammed through poor neighborhoods". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Meyersohn, Nathaniel (2019-07-19). "Dollar stores are everywhere. That's a problem for poor Americans". CNN. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Kelloway, Claire (2018-12-17). "Dollar Stores May Do Low-Income Areas More Harm Than Good". Eater. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  18. ^ Ver Ploeg, Michele (2010-03-01). "Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food Is Limited in "Food Deserts"". USDA Economic Research Service. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Kurtzon, Gregory; McClelland, Robert (March 2010). "Do the Poor Pay More Store-By-Store?" (PDF). BLS Working Papers. U.S. Department of Labor.
  20. ^ Ehrenfreund, Max. "The poor are paying more and more for everyday purchases, a new study warns". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  21. ^ Attanasio, Orazio P.; Frayne, Christine (January 2006). "Do the Poor Pay More?" (PDF). Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  22. ^ "Tobacco companies target poorer neighborhoods with advertising". Harvard School of Public Health. 2010-08-30. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ Von Lampe, Klaus; Kurti, Marin; Johnson, Jacqueline (2018-12-01). ""I'm gonna get me a loosie" Understanding single cigarette purchases by adult smokers in a disadvantaged section of New York City". Preventive Medicine Reports. 12: 182–185. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.09.016. ISSN 2211-3355.
  24. ^ Weese, Karen. "Why it costs so much to be poor in America". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ Garthwaite, Josie (2014-06-06). "Prepay Plans for Electricity Offer Alternative to the Usual Monthly Power Bill". National Geographic. Retrieved 2021-01-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ Hausman, Jerry A.; Sidak, J. Gregory (April 2004). "Why Do the Poor and the Less-Educated Pay More for Long-Distance Calls?". Contributions to Economic Analysis & Policy. 3 (1). doi:10.2202/1538-0645.1210.
  27. ^ "Who Pays? 6th Edition". ITEP. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  28. ^ Maciag, Michael (2015-05-06). "States' Shifting Reliance on Income Versus Sales Taxes". Governing. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. ^ Waldron, Travis (2013-02-20). "Capital Gains Tax Cuts 'By Far' The Biggest Contributor To Growth In Income Inequality, Study Finds". Think Progress. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Wamsley, Laurel (2020-08-06). "Gov. Says Florida's Unemployment System Was Designed To Create 'Pointless Roadblocks'". NPR. Retrieved 2021-02-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  31. ^ Fineout, Gary; Caputo, Marc. "'It's a sh-- sandwich': Republicans rage as Florida becomes a nightmare for Trump". Politico. Retrieved 2021-02-16. Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  32. ^ Adamczyk, Alicia (2020-10-08). "The U.S. unemployment system was already broken. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit". CNBC. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  33. ^ a b Hersher, Rebecca; Benincasa, Robert (2019-03-05). "How Federal Disaster Money Favors The Rich". NPR. Retrieved 2021-02-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  34. ^ Adams, Amelia (2018-11-30). "Low-income households disproportionately denied by FEMA is a sign of a system that is failing the most vulnerable". Texas Housers. Retrieved 2021-02-16. In other words, low-income applicants are more likely to face denial for assistance because of administrative and logistical issues such as failure to successfully obtain an inspection and prove their identity and occupancy of the home.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ Adrian, Florido (2018-03-20). "Unable To Prove They Own Their Homes, Puerto Ricans Denied FEMA Help". Retrieved 2021-02-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  36. ^ Smith-Schoenwalder, Cecelia (2019-10-09). "Study: FEMA Flood Buyouts Favor the Wealthy". U.S. News & World Report.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  37. ^ Frank, Thomas (2021-01-07). "Advisers Rebuke FEMA for Racial Disparities in Disaster Aid". Scientific American. Retrieved 2021-02-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  38. ^ "Small Business Loans Harder to Get in Less Affluent Areas". CPA Practice Advisor. 2017-01-27. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  39. ^ Nolan, Lauren; Adams, Brent (2019-08-06). "Patterns of Disparity: Small Business Lending In Illinois". Woodstock Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  40. ^ Lozano, Juan A. (2018-08-24). "One Year Post-Harvey, Recovery Toughest for the Poor". Insurance Journal. Retrieved 2021-02-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  41. ^ "State Minimum Wage Laws | U.S. Department of Labor". Retrieved 2021-02-11.
  42. ^ Erickson, Jim (2016-01-20). "Minority, low-income neighborhoods targeted for hazardous waste". The University Record. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2021-02-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  43. ^ Badger, Emily (2014-04-15). "Pollution is segregated, too". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-02-02.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  44. ^ Semuels, Alana (2016-03-18). "The Role of Highways in American Poverty". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  45. ^ Miller, Johnny (2018-02-21). "Roads to nowhere: how infrastructure built on American inequality". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  46. ^ Badger, Emily; Cameron, Darla (2015-07-16). "How railroads, highways and other man-made lines racially divide America's cities". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-02-02.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  47. ^ Starr, Terrell Jermaine (2015-05-06). "5 Ways Being Poor is a Crime". Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  48. ^ Graham, Lester; Svoboda, Sandra (2016-11-03). "Poor and black more likely to be wrongfully convicted". Michigan Radio. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  49. ^ "Disproportionate Minority Contact" (PDF). National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved 2021-01-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  50. ^ "The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines". Brennan Center for Justice. 2019-11-21. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  51. ^ Onyekwere, Adureh (2020-06-02). "How Cash Bail Works". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  52. ^ Lewis, Nicole; Lockwood, Beatrix (2019-12-17). "The Hidden Cost of Incarceration". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  53. ^ Bertram, Wanda (2019-02-11). "New report uncovers the cost of phone calls in over 2,000 locally-run jails across the U.S." Prison Policy Initiative. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  54. ^ Maximino, Martin (2014-03-12). "The impact of crime on property values: Research roundup". Journalist's Resource. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  55. ^ "Household Poverty and Nonfatal Violent Victimization, 2008-2012". Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. 2014-11-18. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  56. ^ Travis, Alan (2006-04-18). "Poorest suffer most from violent crime". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-01-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links[edit]