Building on yesterday’s discussion of how persistent poverty may be an even bigger problem than the gentrification that dominates the discourse on modern urban issues, let’s get into the details of why poverty needs to be addressed more while discussing urban issues in the US.
This is not a dispute over whether or not gentrification occurs, or whether gentrification has consequences. Gentrification has definitely happened to cities all over the world. Even more frightening than the idea of cities gentrifying and growing economically, however, is the fact that far more cities have fallen deeper into poverty than cities that have gentrified. Over the last 40 years, only 105 out of 1,100 high-poverty areas have gentrified. During that time, the number of high-poverty tracts from 1970 to 2010 increased from 1,100 to over 3,100. That’s right, the number of high-poverty areas has tripled since the 1970s. Exacerbating the issue is that areas that gentrify often develop alongside areas that fall deeper into poverty, because the low-income housing used to address the problem of displacement is often placed in poorer areas, further concentrating the amount of poverty in those neighborhoods.
How do we begin to address the problem of poverty? First, it’s important to acknowledge that place matters. Neighborhoods have long-term effects on their residents, and inter-generational poverty exists and is in part perpetuated by the relative lack of opportunities for residents of low-income neighborhoods. Strategies tackling the issue of poverty should recognize that for low-income residents to gain opportunities, the limitations of their neighborhoods need to be addressed.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that race plays a large role in perpetuating poverty. While diversity has grown, many areas throughout the US, particularly in the South, continue to be largely black and white in racial composition. Discriminatory practices continue to segregate poor blacks and Latinos far more than poor whites and Asians. If we start by recognizing these issues, we’re more likely to create more opportunities for more communities to thrive.