Many of the US' most disadvantaged minority households are trapped in pockets of concentrated urban poverty, preventing them from getting the education and jobs that would enable them to rise above the poverty line.
Fresno, California, has the nation's highest concentration of residents in extremely poor neighborhoods, according to a study released yesterday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
New Orleans, second on the list, had its deep racial and economic rifts exposed by Hurricane Katrina. But according to the census-based research, the deprivation seen in that city's lower Ninth Ward is closely mirrored by conditions in parts of Louisville, Kentucky, Miami and Atlanta, which round out the report's top five list.
Poor planning over decades has concentrated public housing at the core of cities around the nation, while new developments, jobs and schools mushroomed in the suburbs, beyond the reach of low-income households, deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots, the study said.
"Concentrating poverty compounds the effects of just plain poverty," said Alan Berube, primary author of Katrina's Window: Confronting Concentrated Poverty Across America.
Berube's study focused on extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods where high crime and a lack of quality housing, stable job opportunities and supportive schools erode the quality of life, and limit the chances that a family might rise above the hardships imposed by their own financial straits.
These are areas in which 40 percent or more of residents live below the federal poverty line. The average household earnings in these areas barely exceed US$20,000, and four in 10 adults are disconnected from the labor force -- unemployed and not looking for work.
"We're underserved, under-respected. ... You have to leave your community to get the most basic services," said Reverend Paul Binion II of Fresno's Westside Church of God.
One result of high-density poverty is its tendency to ensnare the next generation, the study suggests. In these communities, where an average of one in 12 adults have college degrees, children lack the money, role models and academic footing that would help them get into college themselves.
"It's access," said Tate Hill, business development coordinator for the Fresno West Coalition for Economic Development. "It's not that people who live in impoverished areas don't want to work or don't want better lives or don't want their children to go to good schools -- they just can't access it."