Census Bureau: 77.4M Americans Live in Highly Concentrated Pockets of Poverty

Zoey DiMauro | July 3, 2014 | 11:33am EDT
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(AP photo)

(CNSNews.com)-- More than 77 million Americans live in highly concentrated pockets of poverty where more than 20 percent of all residents are below the federal poverty line, according to Census Bureau data released on June 30.

Poverty levels shrunk by 2 percent, between 1990 and 2000, from 20 percent to 18.1 percent, only to reach 25.7 percent between 2000 and 2010.

"While the overall population grew by 10 percent over the decade, the number of people living in poverty areas grew by about 56 percent,"the Census Bureau study reported.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines the poverty line as $23,850 a year in income for a family of four. A total of 23 million people who are living beneath the poverty line reside in these high-poverty areas, but their neighbors are usually only slightly better off.

The Census Bureau tracks these areas so that government programs can target resources to neighborhoods with the most need. Such communities are often plagued by “increased crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities” for all residents, the study reported, which "adds burdens to low-income families" living there.

While 51.1 percent of all poor people lived in high-poverty urban areas in 2010, rural regions saw  the largest increase (12 percent) in pockets of poverty between 2000 and 2010. Suburban areas accounted for 28.6 high-poverty areas, while 20.4 percent were located outside large metropolitan areas.

People who are unmarried or separated are most likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty, especially single mothers and their children. About 38 percent of all families headed by a female householder with no husband present lived in a high- poverty area, the largest proportion among all family types.

High-poverty areas are unevenly distributed throughout the U.S., the Census Bureau reported. The South has the largest number (34.4 million) and the highest percentage (30.8 percent) of people living in high-poverty areas of all the regions in the U.S.

In 2000, only four states had a third of their population living in high-poverty areas. But by 2010, that number had increased to 14 states.

“In Arkansas, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee, the percentage point increases in the proportion of people living in poverty areas were among the largest,” the study noted.  Only Louisiana, West Virginia and the District of Columbia saw declining numbers.

Fred Warner, the commission chair from Baker County, Oregon told CNSNews.com that the last mill in the area closed in the late 1990’s, and with it went other jobs based on forest products, such as logging and truck driving. In 2000, BakerCounty had less that 10 percent of its population living in poverty areas; it's now 71 percent.

Steve Simon, the city administrator for Adamsville, Tenn., also told CNSNews.com that a bathtub factory that had been downsizing for years closed recently, contributing to unemployment in the region. The counties surrounding the city, McNairy and Hardin, were listed as some of the most affected over the past ten years, with nearly 85 percent of residents now living in high-poverty areas within both counties.


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