Measuring Concentrated Poverty in Texas

Concentrated poverty is a significant problem plaguing neighborhoods across the United States. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, extreme poverty neighborhoods, where more than 40% or more of the population lives below the poverty line, suffer from higher rates of crime, reduced educational attainment, lack of access to health care, and a lack of upward social mobility.

While poor neighborhoods already suffer from significant challenges in health care, crime, and education, areas of concentrated poverty experience a second layer of unique challenges on top of the already detrimental side-effects of poverty, including in ‘high poverty’ neighborhoods where 20%-40% of the population lives under the poverty line. As the Brookings report notes, concentrated poverty has grown significantly in the United States, with a significant part of poverty growth in the United States occurring in extreme poverty neighborhoods. In Texas, the situation is bleak, with more then 1 in every 3 Texans living in either a high or extreme poverty area where more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. Similarly, concentrated poverty has deepened significantly in Texas following the Great Recession.

In Texas, there has been a significant deepening of concentrated poverty between 2005–09 and 2010–14. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005–09 and 2010–14 American Community Survey Estimates reveal that while 13.5% of the nation’s poor population lives in extreme poverty, almost 19% of poor residents in Texas live in extreme poverty.

Share of Poor People Living in Extreme Poverty (Poverty Rate > 40%)

The share of Texans — regardless of poverty status — living in these areas is also higher than the national share (6.9% in Texas versus 4.4% nationally). Not only is the share of people living in concentrated poverty greater in Texas, but so is the rate at which concentrated poverty grew. Between 2005–09 and 2010–14, the share of poor people living in extreme poverty in Texas grew by almost 10%, more than three times the national growth rate of 3% while the share of Texans, regardless of poverty status, living in these areas increased 15% from 2005–09 to 2010–14, ten times greater than the national increase of 1.5%.

Share of Total Population Living in Extreme Poverty
Comparing Rates of Change of Share of Total and Poor Population Living in Extreme Poverty

Based on this data, it appears that Texas experienced a significant deepening of concentrated poverty in existing tracts rather than a geographic expansion of concentrated poverty or increase in extreme poverty tracts. In Texas, the number of people living in extreme poverty increased 27% from 1.3 million in 2005–09 to 1.7 million in 2010–14, much slower than the national average of 57%. Likewise, the number of extreme poverty tracts in Texas increased by 30.5% from 321 to 419, about a third of the national rate, reflecting a more pronounced geographic expansion of concentrated poverty across the United States than in Texas.

Changes in both populations and number of extreme poverty neighborhoods

Although the discussion of concentrated poverty in the Brookings report and in this analysis focuses primarily on extreme poverty neighborhoods, it is important to also measure growth patterns in high poverty neighborhoods (20%-40% poverty rate). Brookings notes that the effects of concentrated poverty on crime, education, and health care begin to appear once a neighborhood passes a poverty rate of 20%, continuing to grow until they eventually level off after the poverty rate passes 40%.

In Texas, a large majority of poor people — more than 63% — live in a high or extreme poverty neighborhood, compared with 55% nationally. When looking at the entire Texas population, regardless of poverty status, a striking 35% of the entire population — more than one in every three Texans — lives in a high or extreme poverty neighborhood. Given this data, it is clear that a significant number of poor and non-poor Texans are being exposed to concentrated poverty and consequently its unique, negative effects on crime, health, education, and social mobility.

Comparing Share of Poor People Living in both High and Extreme Poverty Neighborhoods

Understanding both how and where poverty growth is occurring is critical for policymakers seeking to direct resources to anti-poverty programs and tackle disparities in education, crime, health, and economic mobility. This analysis reveals that Texas has experienced a deepening of concentrated poverty between 2005–09 and 2010–14. The number of people living in extreme poverty areas has grown at a slower pace than it has nationwide, but the share of Texans — both below and above the poverty line — living in extreme poverty (40% or higher poverty rate) is not only higher than the national share, but has grown at a significantly higher pace than it has nationwide between 2005–09 and 2010–14. With more than one in every three Texans and more than three in every five poor Texans living in a high or extreme poverty area, it is evident that the deepening of concentrated poverty is a real and significant problem facing Texas neighborhoods.

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