No, Cities Aren't Losing Their Poor

MLewyn's picture

According to some media commentary, any form of civic improvement (such as, say, light rail) is dangerous because it might lead to something called gentrification (i.e. middle-class people moving back into cities) which allegedly leads to displacement (i.e. poorer people being priced out of an area by rising rents).

I think its time for a little reality check.  It is true that cities and suburbs have been economically converging to some extent.  In 1999, the national urban poverty rate was 2.1 times the suburban rate (18 percent in cities, 8.5 in suburbs) while in 2009 the urban poverty rate was just under 1.9 times the suburban poverty rate (20.9 percent to 11.4 percent).  But that still means that cities still have a disproportionate share of the region's poor in most places.

Similarly, even though the number of high-poverty areas (where over 40 percent of individuals live below the poverty line) rose faster in suburbs than in cities over the past decade, poor people in cities are still four times as likely to live in such neighborhoods as their suburban counterparts.

In sum, the gap between city and suburb is smaller than it once was- but it isn't zero.


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