This web site documents the geographic dimension of poverty in the United States.  Poverty is generally defined at the individual or family level as not having enough money to buy basic necessities. But because poor people tend to live in poor neighborhoods, poverty also has a spatial component. High-poverty neighborhoods can be dangerous and unhealthy places to live, and children growing up in such neighborhoods may lack positive role models and be exposed to crime, gangs, drugs, and other negative influences. The tendency of poor persons to be clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods is often referred to as the "concentration of poverty."  The severe economic deprivation of such neighborhoods exacerbates the problems of having low income. Understanding how the spatial context of poverty affects individuals and limits opportunities has become an important theme in recent research (see, for example, Bluestone 2000; Brooks-Gunn et al. 1997a, 1997b; Bobo et al. 2000; Drier et al. 2001; Orfield 1996; Sjoquist 2000; Squires 2002).  

Between 1970 and 1990, poverty became substantially more concentrated in the United States. Poor persons of most racial and ethnic groups were much more likely to live in a ghetto, barrio, or slum (Jargowsky, 1997). However, in the 1990s, there was a substantial reversal of the trend.  "Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems: Concentrated Poverty in the 1990s," a Brookings Institution Policy Brief issued by the Center for Urban and Metropolitan Policy, details these changes, as well as the finding that inner-ring suburbs experienced increases in poverty during the 1990s.   

Milwaukee High-Povety Areas, 2000In this interactive web site, you are able to select a city or metropolitan area and view the location of high-poverty census tracts and observe the growth of high-poverty areas over time. In addition, you may view the changing demographics of the population. All of the maps here are based on U.S. Census data from 1970 through 2000. The data are summarized at the neighborhood level, using Census Tracts as proxies for neighborhoods. Click on the "About this Project" tab for more details about our methodology, and on "How to Use" for more information  on how to use the mapping tool. The "About" tab also discusses our policy regarding the use of the images generated using the web site. To get to the map page, click the "Generate Maps" button at the top of the page.

The purpose of this web page is to provide an easily accessible source of maps showing the concentration of poverty and related demographic information in U.S. Metropolitan areas.  We hope this information is useful to students, journalists, city planners, and anyone interested in community development.  Our goal is to allow researchers, advocates, and students who have little or no experience with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to visualize poverty and population trends at the neighborhood level for any location in the United States from 1970 to 2000. 

While useful, the capabilities of this web site are quite limited compared to a full-blown GIS.  If you find this web site useful, you may wish to learn more about GIS.  If you want to be able to be able to map any of thousands of Census variables, and to have more control over the form of the maps (colors, categories, etc.), you may wish to obtain the CensusCD Neighborhood Change Database, which includes mapping software..

This project was funded by a grant from the Brookings Institution and received additional support from the University of Texas at Dallas.  The principal designers of the web site are JeongDai Kim, Sonia Monga, and Karl Ho.  The director of the project is Paul A. Jargowsky.  Click on the comments link below to forward any thoughts, questions, or suggestions about the web site.

 The Bruton Center at the University of Texas at Dallas

Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy


Last Updated: May 30, 2006