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Reality Check on Urban Poverty | Congress for the New Urbanism

Reality Check on Urban Poverty

MLewyn's picture

I've read some stories suggesting that poverty is decreasing in cities and increasing in suburbs.  Urbanists see this alleged trend as evidence that cities are becoming more popular; egalitarians see it as evidence that gentrification is driving the poor into suburbia.

Last week's poverty data suggest that such commentary is a bit wrongheaded, for two reasons.  First of all, most major cities have poverty rates higher than the national average.  The national poverty rate is 15.9%, and even relatively gentrified cities like Boston (21.6%), New York (21.2%) and Portland (17.7%) have higher rates.  (Data by city here). 

Second, even relatively prosperous cities have far more poverty than their suburbs.  For example, San Francisco has a poverty rate of only 15% - but its suburbs have only a 10.1% poverty rate.  Similarly, Washington, DC's poverty rate (18.2%) is still far ahead of the suburban poverty rate (7.1%) (Data here in "Data Appendix" link). 

Admittedly, the economic gap between cities and suburbs has narrowed slightly in many metro areas- but even so, cities still have far more than a fair share of regional poverty. 

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