Exploring Concentrated Poverty in the Southeast

Abrams Lueders
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Community and Economic Development Department
Student Paper August 2016

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Past research has shown that concentrated poverty–the proportion of the poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods–is a serious problem that can compound the negative impact of living in poverty. A 2015 study by Paul Jargowsky found that concentrated poverty in the United States increased significantly between the 2000 census and the 2009–13 American Community Survey (ACS). Jargowsky's research also found that a smaller increase in concentrated poverty occurred between the 2000 census and the earlier 2005–09 ACS, suggesting that concentrated poverty was on the rise before the recent Great Recession.

This paper replicates Jargowsky's methodology in six southeastern states to discover whether concentrated poverty in the Southeast has followed the trajectory of the nation as a whole. An analysis of census data for the Southeast found that, unlike the national study, concentrated poverty declined between 2000 and the 2005–09 ACS. Concentrated poverty in the Southeast didn't rise significantly until the postrecession period reflected by the 2009-13 ACS. This finding suggests that the Great Recession has largely driven recent increases in concentrated poverty in the Southeast. The overall increase in concentrated poverty was also more modest in the Southeast. The proportion of the poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods has increased only by 0.8 percent in the Southeast since 2000, compared to an increase of 4.1 percent nationally. However, changes in concentrated poverty differed significantly between racial groups. Hispanics experienced the greatest increase in concentrated poverty in the Southeast as well as in the rest of the country. Black residents of the Southeast, on the other hand, have experienced a small decrease in concentrated poverty since 2000, while black concentrated poverty has risen in the country as a whole. These trends provide a fruitful starting point for future investigation into the nature of concentrated poverty in the Southeast.

JEL Classification: I32

Key words: poverty, segregation, race, public policy


The author would like to thank Ann Carpenter, community and economic development adviser at the Atlanta Fed, and Karen Leone de Nie, assistant vice president of community and economic development at the Atlanta Fed, for their role in guiding the development of this paper and providing helpful comments on the draft. The views expressed here are the author's and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the author's responsibility.

Comments to the author are welcome at alueders77@gmail.com.