A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that a quarter of the American population is now living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, or “poverty areas.” The most pronounced concentration of impoverished people between 2000 and 2010 has occurred in southern states, according the report released Monday.
Poverty areas are characterized by strong concentrations of families living below the official poverty line. That line varies from state to state and by family size. For a two-parent family of four, in most states, the line is set at an annual income of $23,850 according to the Huffington Post.
Today 25.7 percent of Americans live in poverty areas, up from 18.1 percent in 2000. Five of the seven states to see the biggest gains of people living in such areas were the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The other two were Indiana and Oregon.
Paul Jargowsky, a professor of urban research at Rutgers University, told Al-Jazeera that the migration of people to the highly impoverished areas is driven by suburban sprawl and public policy.
One example of public policy that concentrates poor people is exclusionary zoning, Jargowsky said. Such zoning occurs when suburban districts set minimum square footage requirements for homes that are out of reach for poor families.
"You have many, many politically independent suburbs that use exclusionary zoning to create housing only for families with higher incomes," Jargowsky said. "As families with wealth move further and further out of urban areas, you develop these very high-poverty neighborhoods where the schools begin to fail, you have high crime and low wages."
Alemayehu Bishaw, the author of the report, said in a press release that the poverty areas were most troubling because they lacked opportunities for poor people to improve their quality of life.
"Researchers have found that living in poor neighborhoods adds burdens to low-income families, such as poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities," the release read.
"It’s like having a double burden of poverty in income and in your neighborhood,” he said.
The report indicates that 50.4 percent of African-Americans live in areas of concentrated poverty. American-Indians and Alaskan Natives follow closely behind at 47.8 and 48.3 percent, respectively.
The study also shows the percentage of whites living in such areas rose 11.3 percent to 20.3 percent.