Fact of the Week: A Quarter of Americans Live in Concentrated Poverty Areas


July 10, 2014

Over 25% of Americans – more than 77 million people – lived in areas of concentrated poverty in 2010, up from 18.1% in 2000.
The percentage of people living in these “poverty areas,” defined in the Census Bureau report released last week as an area where more than 20% of the people live below the poverty level, had decreased from 1990 (when the percentage of people living in a poverty area was 20.0%) to 2000. However, both the number and proportion of people living in concentrated poverty areas increased in the decade that followed.  Only 2 states – West Virginia and Louisiana – and the District of Columbia saw declines in both the number and percentage of people living in poverty areas during this time. While this is a move in the right direction, these three entities, along with 12 other states, still had more than 30% of their populations living in poverty areas.

Living in Poverty Areas

Overall, the data showed that nearly 45 million Americans, or almost 15% of the US population, lived in poverty in 2010, up from nearly 34 million, or 12.4%, in 2000. Of the 77 million Americans living in a poverty area, 24 million had incomes below the poverty line. So, while not everyone who lives in a poverty area is poor, living in an area of concentrated poverty can have negative effects on everyone who lives there. Research has long shown that problems such as crime, poor housing conditions, poor schools, food deserts and related health risks, and a lack of job opportunities are more prevalent in poverty areas, adding additional struggles to the people – especially the poor people – who live in these neighborhoods.

The report also looked at the percentage of people living in poverty areas by various demographic and socioeconomic characteristics like age, race, education, employment, and family status. One shocking finding – almost 40% of single mothers and their children lived in poverty areas, the largest proportion among all types of family households.

Poverty areas aren’t just confined to the cities either. While just over half of people living in poverty areas lived in central cities, over 28% lived in suburban areas, and 20% lived outside of metropolitan areas.

With 45 million Americans living in poverty and a quarter of Americans living in a poverty area, we must be more resolved than ever to continue programs and services to reduce poverty. The U.S. House majority has continued to refuse to pass unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed or raise the minimum wage. Threats to programs that provide nutrition assistance and housing vouchers are ever-present while corporations and millionaires continue to enjoy tax breaks.

Share your thoughts on the Census Bureau’s report with us below. If you live in a poverty area or a state with a large percentage of its population in poverty areas, how has it affected you and your community? What do you think should be done to reduce the number of people living in poverty in your region?

Census Bureau
Fact of the Week
Poverty and Income
poverty areas