New Orleans was not alone in the United States as a large city with a high rate of concentrated poverty, according to a study by The Brookings Institution, an independent, nonpartisan think tank.

The paper, “Katrina’s Window: Confronting Concentrated Poverty Across America,” argues that something must be done to reduce the segregation of poor families into distressed neighborhoods. Hurricane Katrina “has reinvigorated a dialogue on race and class in America,” according to the paper, which was authored by Alan Berube, a fellow at The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, and Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

“Overall, nearly 50,000 poor New Orleanians lived in neighborhoods where the poverty rate exceeded 40 percent. New Orleans ranked second among the nation’s 50 largest cities on the degree to which its poor families, mostly African American, were clustered in extremely poor neighborhoods,” the paper states. “In these places, the average household earned barely more than $20,000 annually, only one in 12 adults held a college degree, four in five children were raised in single-parent families, and four in 10 working-age adults — many of them disabled — were not connected to the labor force.”

The paper also notes that “despite improvements in the 1990s, nearly every major American city still contains a collection of extremely poor, racially segregated neighborhoods.”

According to statistics presented in the study, New Orleans ranked second among large U.S. cities for its level of concentrated poverty. The paper bases this on the city’s proportion of all poor people citywide who lived in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, in which more than 40 percent of the residents lived below the federal poverty threshold in 2000.

Fresno, Calif., topped the list, with a 43.5 percent concentrated poverty rate, compared with the 37.7 percent rate in New Orleans. Louisville, Ky.; Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Ga.; Long Beach, Calif.; Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pa.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and New York, N.Y.; in that order, were also on the top-10 list for high concentrated poverty rates.

These segregated neighborhoods “did not appear by accident,” the authors contend. “They emerged in part due to decades of policies that confined poor households, especially poor black ones, to these economically isolated areas. The federal government concentrated public housing in segregated inner-city neighborhoods, subsidized metropolitan sprawl, and failed to create affordable housing for low-income families and minorities in rapidly developing suburbs, cutting them off from decent housing, educational and economic opportunities.”

The paper also states, “A large body of research has demonstrated that concentrated poverty exacts multiple costs on individuals and society. These costs come in the form of: reduced private-sector investment and local job opportunities; increased prices for the poor; higher levels of crime; negative impacts on mental and physical health; low-quality neighborhood schools; and heavy burdens on local governments that induce out-migration of middle-class households. Together, these factors combine to limit the life chances and quality of life available to residents of high-poverty neighborhoods.”

The paper recommends that Congress should consider several options to help alleviate concentrated poverty, “by supporting choice and opportunity for lower-income residents in distressed neighborhoods. Options include…increasing support for housing vouchers; piloting a ‘housing-to-school’ voucher initiative; adopting President Bush’s proposed home-ownership tax credit; targeting affordable housing to low-poverty areas with the assistance of regional housing corporations,” among other options.

“Though these policies alone cannot erase the gaps between rich and poor in America, creating more neighborhoods of choice and connection would offer millions of low-income Americans – especially children – a true chance at social and economic mobility,” the paper states.


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