Upwardly Immobile

by Jonah Shepp

Gentrification may be the talk of the town (no matter which town), but Richard Florida highlights new research showing that most urban neighborhoods that were poor 40 years ago are still poor today. The study “compared neighborhood-level poverty rates in the country’s 51 largest metro areas in 1970 and 2010.” It found that “very few high-poverty neighborhoods in 1970 dramatically reversed their fortunes over the next four decades”:

Entrenched poverty was just about the most constant thing about these neighborhoods. By 2010, fully two-thirds of these poor neighborhoods, 750 tracts in all, were still beset by chronic and concentrated poverty in 2010. Overall, their populations shrunk 40 percent over those forty years, as many of those who were able to move out did. On the other hand, only a small fraction of neighborhoods had turned around in a way that approximates what we call gentrification. Just 105 tracts, or about 10 percent, saw their poverty rates fall below 15 percent, meaning a smaller proportion of their residents lived in poverty than in the nation as a whole. The populations of these tracts grew by about 30 percent over this same period.

But wait, it gets worse:

The authors traced the fate of what they call “fallen star” neighborhoods – tracts that had below-average poverty rates in 1970 (less than 15 percent), but more than 30 percent of their residents living below the poverty line by 2010. More than 1,200 of these tracts shifted from low to high poverty during this time, contributing to an overall increase in the number of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Today, 10.7 million Americans live in 3,100 extremely poor neighborhoods in and around America’s largest city centers.

In other words, for every single gentrified neighborhood, 12 once-stable neighborhoods have slipped into concentrated disadvantage.