Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy

From The Century Foundation:

 

Over the past year, scenes of civil unrest have played out in the deteriorating inner-ring suburb of Ferguson and the traditional urban ghetto of inner-city Baltimore. The proximate cause of these conflicts has been brutal interactions between police and unarmed black men, leading to protests that include violent confrontations with police, but no single incident can explain the full extent of the protesters’ rage and frustration. The riots and protests—which have occurred in racially-segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods, bringing back images of the “long, hot summers” of the 1960s—have sparked a national conversation about race, violence, and policing that is long overdue.

Something important, however, is being left out of this conversation: namely, that we are witnessing a nationwide return of concentrated poverty that is racial in nature, and that this expansion and continued existence of high-poverty ghettos and barrios is no accident. These neighborhoods are not the value-free outcome of the impartial workings of the housing market. Rather, in large measure, they are the inevitable and predictable consequences of deliberate policy choices.

To address the root causes of urban violence, police-community tensions, and the enduring legacy of racism, the genesis of urban slums and the forces that sustain them must be understood. As a first step in that direction, this report examines the trends in the population and characteristics of neighborhoods of extreme deprivation.  Some of the key findings include:

  • There was a dramatic increase in the number of high-poverty neighborhoods. 

  • The number of people living in high-poverty ghettos, barrios, and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million. 

  • These increases were well under way before the Great Recession began. 

  • Poverty became more concentrated—more than one in four of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor. 

  • To make matters worse, poor children are more likely to reside in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor adults. 

  • The fastest growth in black concentration of poverty (12.6 percentage points) since 2000 was not in the largest cities, but in metropolitan areas with 500,000 to 1 million persons. 

This report discusses these trends in the context of the policy choices that helped to construct this architecture of segregation, and makes suggestions on how it can be overcome.

Download this report in its entirety below: