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The Concentration of Poverty has Increased Since 2000
 
Published Wednesday, November 29, 2017
by Brian C. Thiede, Hyojung Kim and Matthew Valasik

The number of nonmetropolitan counties with high poverty rates increased between the 2000 Decennial Census and 2011–2015 American Community Survey (ACS), and so did the share of the rural population residing in these disadvantaged areas.

Over this time period, the percentage of rural counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or more increased from a fifth to nearly one-third, and the share of the rural population living in these places nearly doubled to over 31 percent. Levels of concentrated poverty increased substantially both before and after the Great Recession in rural areas, while increases in urban areas occurred mainly during years affected by the economic downturn (Box 1). Increases in county-level poverty rates were also concentrated in rural areas with small cities, and the share of the population residing in high-poverty counties increased much more among the non-Hispanic white and black populations in rural areas than among the rural Hispanic population.

Understanding Poverty
Poverty is unevenly distributed across the United States.

Historically, rural areas have experienced greater levels of poverty than urban and suburban places. For example, in 2015, 16.7 percent of the population living in nonmetropolitan areas lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. In contrast, the poverty rate was 13.0 percent in metropolitan areas, and 10.8 percent among the subset of the metropolitan population living in suburban areas. However, considerable variation exists from place to place across both rural and urban America. Since 2000, spatially concentrated poverty has been on the upswing in the rural United States.

The number of nonmetropolitan counties with high poverty rates increased substantially between 2000 and 2013, as has the share of the rural population residing in these disadvantaged areas. Over this thirteen-year period, the number of nonmetropolitan counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or more increased from 416 (20.6 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties) to 657 (32.5 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties), and the share of the rural population living in these places nearly doubled from 17.5 to 31.6 percent. Concentrated poverty also increased in metropolitan areas. In 2000, 72 metropolitan counties (6.7 percent of metropolitan counties) had poverty rates of 20 percent or more, yet by 2013 this figure had more than doubled to 169, or 15.6 percent of metropolitan counties.

Likewise, the share of the metropolitan population residing in these high-poverty counties increased from 6.2 to 12.4 percent from 2000 to 2013. This nation-wide increase in concentrated poverty represents a stark reversal of what occurred during the 1990s, when declines in county poverty rates were substantial and widespread.

Click here for the brief on concentrated poverty from the The Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of NH.

Brian C. Thiede is an assistant professor of rural sociology, sociology, and demography at The Pennsylvania State University. Hyojung Kim is a PhD candidate in sociology at Louisiana State University. Matthew Valasik is an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Louisiana State University.


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