Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

As Concentration of Poverty Increases, So Does Impact On Families And Children.

Jonathan SmithThe Pew Trust released a report in July that looked at the difference in economic mobility between White and African American Families.   The report found that one factor impeding African American mobility was the higher likelihood of living in a neighborhood with concentrated poverty.  Children who grew up in neighborhoods with a high rate of poverty were more likely as adults to experience problems in the labor market even if their families were not poor.  Since a low-percentage of White children and a high percentage of African American children live in low-income neighborhoods, there is a dramatic racially disparate impact. 

 The results of this study have a direct application to anti-poverty strategies in the District and suggests that de-concentration of poverty should be a high priority.  Over the past two decades, poverty has become more concentrated in the District and the number of high poverty neighborhoods has increased dramatically.[1]   (We do not know the impact of the recession on this trend, but given the effects of increased unemployment, it is probable that it has grown worse.)  As the number of high poverty census tracts rise, the rate of poverty remains relatively stable.  The result is that fewer poor families live in mixed income neighborhoods.

The concentration of poverty magnifies its impact on families and children.  While being poor has many negative consequences, living in a poor neighborhood increases the chances that children will have poor educational outcomes, individuals will be victims of crime or involved in the criminal justice system, be a teen mother or have limited access to health services.   See the following two DC Fiscal Policy Institute studies: Disparities in the District:  Poverty Is Major Cause of Social Problems in the District of Columbia  and Where We Are, Where We Need To Go:  The primary Care Safety Net in the District of Columbia.


[1] According to a report by Fannie Mae, “the number of high-poverty census tracts in the city rose from 36 in 1990 to 43 in 2000 and the number of extreme-poverty tracts more than doubled, rising from 10 to 23.”

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