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Economic Recovery Proceeds Unevenly, As Poverty Rates Climb Among Most Cities


Even as overall poverty in the U.S. has fallen during the last decade, more than two-thirds of its cities have registered increases in the number of poor Americans, according to a Social Explorer analysis of Census data.

The analysis of American Community Survey five-year data found poverty increased in 618 of 881 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas between 2009 and 2017. Although the Census Bureau has reported that poverty fell nationwide from 14.3 percent to 12.3 percent, the survey figures show the decline in the number of poor Americans was far from uniform and inequality appears to be on the rise.

Visualize and analyze poverty changes among U.S. Metro/Micro areas from the year 2009 to 2017.
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The figures also reveal that while poverty fell most sharply in Texas metro areas that benefitted from an energy industry renaissance, a growing number of poor Americans could be found in large metros that are also home to some of the nation’s wealthiest households. Even as household incomes climbed, poverty rose in metros that included New York (1.3 percent increase), Chicago (1.1 percent increase), and Washington, D.C. (1.2 percent increase).

The highest increases in poverty were registered among the nation’s 526 micropolitan statistical areas, which are defined as urban clusters that contain between 10,000 and 50,000 people. The Huron, S.D., micro area, which reported in 2009 that 10.1 percent of its 15,400 residents were poor, gained almost 2,500 additional people in eight years. The number of poor residents, meanwhile, swelled to 4,200 by 2017, boosting its poverty rate to 23.7 percent.

Other micro areas that registered large increases in the poverty rate included Arcadia, Fla. (29.9 percent, a 9.1 percent increase); London, Ky. (27.2 percent, an 8.1 percent increase); Vicksburg, Miss. (27.2 percent, an 8.1 percent increase); and Americus, Ga. (31.7 percent, a 7.5 percent increase).

Among metro areas, which consist of urban clusters with more than 50,000 people, Valdosta, Ga., registered the largest percentage increase in poor residents. The Census data show 25.2 percent of its 139,300 residents were poor, a 5.3 percent increase from the 2009 data. Warner Robins, Ga. (17.2 percent, a 5 percent increase) and Bay City, Mich. (16.3 percent, a 4.7 percent increase) also reported significant increases in the poverty rate.

The nation’s poorest places, generally found in an arc that stretches from Appalachia through the Deep South and into the desert Southwest, were a mixed economic bag during the decade. Middlesborough, Ky., the nation’s poorest micro area, reported a 38 percent poverty rate in 2017 – up 5.3 percent from 2009. Gallup, N.M., with a 37.5 percent poverty rate, registered a 3.8 percent increase in poor people during the same period.  The poverty rate in Cleveland, Miss., however, fell 0.5 percent to 37.4 percent.

Some traditionally poor metros, especially along the U.S.-Mexican border, fared better. The poverty rate in McAllen, Texas, dropped 4.2 percent to 31.8 percent. The percentage of poor people in Brownsville, Texas, fell 4.4 percent to 31.2 percent, and the poverty rate in El Paso fell 4.8 percent to 21.8 percent.

Texas micro areas made up seven of the 10 places where poverty fell the most, according to the analysis. Pecos, a west Texas micro located about 75 miles west of the oil-rich city of Odessa, saw its poverty rate plummet by more than half, falling from 27.9 percent to 13.2 percent. Raymondville, about 50 miles north of the border town of McAllen and the micro with the highest rate of poverty in 2009, registered an 11.2 percent drop in poverty, although poor people still made up 35.6 percent of its population. Uvalde, about 90 miles west of San Antonio, registered a 9.9 percent decrease in the number of poor residents; its poverty rate fell to 17.9 percent.

Author: Frank Bass

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