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Poverty in the United States

December 14, 2008
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There is a lot of poverty in the United States, and the regional patterns are striking. The map above represents 1998 data, and it tells a very sectional story about poverty in this country. (The map is presented by the Regional Development Institute of Northern Illinois University.) The largest concentration of poor counties is clearly in the deep south and in Appalachia. And it would appear that there is a high correspondence between poor counties and populations of minority Americans — Mexican-Americans in southwest Texas, Native Americans in the Dakotas and Arizona, and African-Americans throughout the south (Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama). The industrial midwest had relatively less poverty in 1998 (it will be urgent to see how this map changes once the restructuring of the automotive industry is complete). Even after the deindustrialization of many midwestern cities in the 1970s and 1980s the incidence of poverty at the county level remained relatively low. And the Boston-New York-Washington corridor shows one of the lowest levels of poverty — along with some of the highest population density in the country.

But what about the distribution of urban poverty in the United States? Here is a map of the metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas of the United States (hosted by New Markets Tax Credit Resource Center).

Here is a map of poverty rates for Chicago in 2000 (host):
Here’s Houston:


And Detroit (% children under poverty in 1990):

What each of these metropolitan maps indicate is the very high concentration of poverty that exists in most American cities. And these patterns illustrate at the city level the same point noted above at the national level: that there is a very close correspondence between poverty and race.

It is time for a well-planned “war on poverty” once more. And let’s hope that the Obama administration will find the strategies and resources that are necessary to address these persistent patterns of poverty and inequality.

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