Concentrated poverty increasing in rural America

February 4, 2013 at 11:13 am 1 comment

The incidence of concentrated poverty– or clusters of poverty in regions across the country– has increased in recent years. The problem of concentrated urban poverty has been discussed a great deal; however, the problem of concentrated rural poverty is a growing one. This map from the Daily Yonder shows the distribution of high poverty in non-metropolitan areas over time.

The red areas indicate areas of high poverty since 2000– a rate that has been increasing over the past decade.  The poverty rate for the population in non-metro areas was 14.8 percent in 2000, but had increased to 16.5 percent in the 2006-2010 period.

As the Daily Yonder explains:

Concentrated poverty contributes to poor housing and health conditions, higher crime and school dropout rates, as well as employment dislocations. As a result, economic conditions in very poor areas can create limited opportunities for poor residents that become self-perpetuating.

Even more concerning is that a much higher share of minorities in rural areas are living in concentrated poverty. The graph below shows the percentage of those in poverty who also live in high poverty counties. While the percentage of poor people who live in high-poverty counties is higher for rural areas across the board, it is much higher for certain groups. Almost 68 percent of poor African Americans live in rural high-poverty counties.

The most significant take-away from this data is that people who are living in these high-poverty rural areas not only face economic challenges, but they also lack access to social and economic opportunities that exist in other places. This kind of “social, racial, linguistic, and economic separateness from the larger economy” means that poverty is perpetuated from generation to generation. And as the Daily Yonder points out, though much has been discussed about concentrations of urban poverty, the data suggests that minorities in rural areas of concentrated poverty may face much more formidable barriers than their urban counterparts.

The Huffington Post published a lengthy article about rural poverty last fall, exploring in detail the systemic causes and challenges that have led to persistent poverty, particularly for minorities, in rural areas. One striking comment by residents in this article pointed out that with so few jobs available, competition is high for each one– and even if you get the job, wages are so low that most continue to live under the poverty level even while employed.

Isolated from the mainstream economy, and mired by generations of poverty and lack of opportunity  these communities have suffered long before the recent recession and will continue to suffer long afterward unless we make strategic investments in these areas.  Federal spending on programs that support things like community development, affordable housing, and infrastructure, is far greater in cities than in rural areas. But these are vital functions– aside from subsidies to support agriculture, rural areas need resources to support investments in these areas. It will take time and a lot of effort, but without taking some initiative we will not see a reversal in the generational poverty that too many in rural America  struggle in.


Entry filed under: Economic Development, Economy, Jobs & Employment. Tags: , , , , , .

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