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Poor see gains of 1990s reversed

Poverty has become more concentrated in the first half of this decade, says a report.

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One less visible aspect of the economic boom of the 1990s was a decline in the number of low-income working people who lived in very poor neighborhoods.

But that trend has reversed during the first five years of this decade, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. It found that the number of poor people who live in areas of concentrated poverty increased by 41 percent since 1999.

"Many of these neighborhoods that made these great gains in the 1990s – with the downturn in the beginning of this decade and the weak recovery – have been hit hard by this economic change," says Elizabeth Kneebone, lead author of the report and a senior research analyst at Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program. "We've lost a lot of ground and see poverty again increasing in these neighborhoods."

Such increases in concentrations of poor people in specific neighborhoods create a kind of self-perpetuating economic segregation, says Ms. Kneebone. That's because low-income neighborhoods generally have lower-performing schools, less access to good jobs, poorer health outcomes, higher crime rates, and less economic investment.

"As people try to work their way out of poverty, they don't find as many of the opportunities they need in very low- income neighborhoods," she says. "All of this creates the cycle that perpetuates poverty."

With a few exceptions, the biggest jumps in poverty-concentration levels were found in urban metropolitan regions of the Northeast and Midwest, including New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit, according to the report.


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