Research

The Neighborhood Poverty Project

May 5, 2020

In the span of just a few weeks, the U.S. economy went from “recession proof” to facing one of the largest single-quarter contractions since the Great Depression. From mid-March to mid-April, 26 million workers filed for unemployment, surpassing the nearly 23 million jobs created over more than ten years of economic growth.

The recession currently underway will hit the most economically vulnerable places the hardest. Persistent geographic inequality defined the record-long economic expansion that has just come to an end. “Winning” places pulled rapidly ahead while others stagnated or declined. While very few places are likely to emerge from this crisis unscathed, distressed American communities, where work was already scarce and household finances were already precarious, are the least resilient heading into the current storm, and their ranks have proliferated over the past several decades.

EIG’s latest research initiative, the Neighborhood Poverty Project, tracks changes in the number and composition of metropolitan high-poverty neighborhoods from 1980 to 2018. It finds that the number of neighborhoods in which 30 percent or more of the population lives in poverty doubled from 1980 to 2010 and has remained stubbornly high despite a decade of national economic expansion. Unlike the 1990s expansion, the recovery from the 2009 financial crisis failed to meaningfully reduce the country’s accumulated stock of poor communities or raise their household incomes. This project aims to clearly demonstrate that, as policymakers wrestle with how to ameliorate the damage of the current crisis, a return to the pre-crisis “normal” of national growth is not enough if we are to lift America’s most vulnerable communities.

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