Urban communities are thinning out and changing, drawing in impoverished Hispanics who have low-wage jobs or are unemployed. Neighborhoods with poverty rates of at least 40 percent are stretching over broader areas, increasing in suburbs at twice the rate of cities.
About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.
That 6.7 percent share is the highest in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has maintained such records, surpassing previous highs in 2009 and 1993 of just over 6 percent.
Concentrated poverty also spread wider.
After declining during the 1990s economic boom, the proportion of poor people in large metropolitan areas who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods jumped from 11.2 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent last year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis released Thursday. Such geographically concentrated poverty in the U.S. is now at the highest level since 1990, following a decade of high unemployment and rising energy costs.
As a whole, the number of poor in the suburbs who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods rose by 41 percent since 2000, more than double the growth of such city neighborhoods.
Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, described a demographic shift in people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have less access to good schools, hospitals and government services. As concentrated poverty spreads to new areas, including suburbs, the residents are now more likely to be white, native-born and high school or college graduates, not the conventional image of high-school dropouts or single
The more recent broader migration of the U.S. population, including working- and middle-class blacks, to the South and to suburbs helps explain some of the shifts in poverty.
A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that the population of 133 historically black urban communities had dropped 36 percent since 1970, as the U.S. black population growth slowed and many blacks moved to new areas. The newest residents in these areas are now more likely to be Hispanic, who have more than tripled their share in the neighborhoods, to 21 percent.
Just over 7 percent of all African-Americans nationwide now live in traditional ghettos, down from 33 percent in 1970.
New 2010 poverty data to be released on Monday by the Census Bureau will show additional demographic changes.
For the first time, the share of Hispanics living in poverty is expected to surpass that of African-Americans based on the new measure, reflecting in part the lower participation of immigrants and non-English speakers in government aid programs such as housing and food stamps. The 2009 census estimates show 27.6 percent of all Hispanics living in poverty, compared with 23.4 percent for blacks.
Wides-Munoz reported from Miami.