By Tom McLaughlin

In summer 2013, a groundbreaking report by the Center for Urban Research and Education (CURE) at Rutgers University–Camden and The Century Foundation revealed that concentrated poverty has increased by 50 percent since 2000, and more than 11 million Americans now reside in neighborhoods where at least two in every five households live below the poverty line.

While “The Architecture of Segregation” alarmed scholars and policymakers alike, little research has attempted to determine the root causes of this concentrated poverty – that is, until now.

Thanks to a $218,378 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Geography Spatial Sciences Program, scholars from the Rutgers research center and George Mason University will examine the determinants of the concentration of poverty – the extent to which the poor are isolated in high-poverty neighborhoods – with an emphasis on the role of public policies that shape metropolitan growth and development.

“Many researchers agree that low-income and minority groups have been excluded from newer, growing suburbs, which has led to the segregation of these populations. However, we’ve never had concrete evidence showing the contributing factors of this segregation,” says Paul Jargowsky, CURE director and a professor of public policy at Rutgers–Camden, who is conducting the study with Katrin Anacker, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University, and Chris Wheeler, a Ph.D. candidate in public affairs at Rutgers–Camden.

The researchers will use a longitudinal database of metropolitan areas in the United States – nearly 400 in all – to analyze changes in income distribution versus changes in spatial organization of households by race, ethnicity, and income.

Using cutting-edge geospatial analysis, they will investigate the resulting patterns of housing construction, driven by exclusionary housing and other land-use controls, and relate these patterns in space and time to the movements of populations, explains Jargowsky.

“In analyzing the differences between metropolitan areas, we hope to show that, depending on how segregated housing construction has been, it has resulted in more or less racial segregation and concentrated poverty,”

says the Rutgers–Camden researcher, who has been named a fellow at the Center for Advanced Social and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Jargowsky notes that the study is a considerable undertaking due to the fact that the researchers are not looking at one single metric. Rather, they have to decide what factors to look for in the housing stock, which are different for each metropolitan area, and determine ways to characterize the spatial arrangements of housing and how they have changed over time.

“It’s a difficult project, which is one of the reasons that no one has ever done this before,” he says. “However, if we can put a more concrete number on the extent to which public policies are actually creating the problems that we face, then it will help to change these counterproductive policies.

According to Jargowsky, the study is especially critical given the mounting evidence showing the dramatic, negative impacts of concentrated poverty on a number of socioeconomic factors, such as employment, healthcare, education, and crime. These factors then create a cyclical effect, contributing back to even more poverty.

“If you have a certain amount of poverty in the country, that is bad in itself,” he says. “But if you take that poverty and concentrate it, it makes all of the problems of poverty even worse.”