Highly concentrated poverty on the rise

A woman walks by a man sleeping on the sidewalk on September 14, 2011 in New York City.

Steve Chiotakis: A new study says poverty is not only growing here in the U.S., it's also clustering -- meaning the number of folks living near one another in poor communities is on the rise.

From station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn., Craig LeMoult reports.


Community Action Agency worker: Here are the list of the pantry days.

Craig LeMoult: People at the New Opportunities community action agency in Meriden, Conn., line up for information on food pantries. Yaylin Rodriguez came by to find out about home heating assistance. She lost her job in May, and she says things are pretty tough in Meriden right now.

Yaylin Rodriguez: I see that people want opportunity, but the doors are being shut down.

Meriden's an old industrial town in the center of Connecticut, within 20 minutes of four larger cities. The industry left years ago, and unemployment is more than 10 percent.

A new report by Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution looks at what she calls concentrated poverty. That's neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of people live below the poverty line. And she says it's suburban communities like Meriden that have seen the fastest increase in people living in neighborhoods like that.

Elizabeth Kneebone: And the concern there is as these suburban clusters of poverty grow, that we're creating communities that are walled off or isolated from opportunities like better jobs or better schools.

She says over the last decade there's been an increase of 2.2 million Americans living in these poverty clusters. That reverses a downward trend that was seen in the booming 1990s. This kind of concentrated poverty nearly doubled in Midwestern metro areas over the last 10 years, and increased by a third in Southern cities. And it's felt in Northeastern towns like Meriden, where Rodriguez says people like her may just have to leave.

Rodriguez: Children and families will die here if they stay here in this kind of condition. I'm telling you, with my experience, we will never survive if this keep on.

LeMoult: Are you planning right now that you're going to leave Meriden?

Rodriguez: Yeah. That's my next goal, if I can't make it, I will have to leave myself.

She says she's still hoping, though, that a good job will come through.

In Connecticut, I'm Craig LeMoult for Marketplace.

About the author

Craig LeMoult is a news reporter for National Public Radio member-station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.

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