One in Three Texans Live in Poverty Areas

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According to a new Census report, 15 percent of the U.S. population lives in poverty, but a much higher number – 26 percent – live in “poverty areas,” defined as census tracts where at least one in five residents are below the poverty line.

“Living in communities with a large concentration of people in poverty adds burdens to low-income families,” according to the report. “Problems associated with living in poverty areas, such as higher crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities are exacerbated when poor families live clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

The types of households that live in poverty areas are, not surprisingly, similar to the types that are in poverty. Female-headed households are the most likely to live in poverty areas, and almost 40 percent of them do – the largest proportion among any household type. And almost 30 percent of all children in the U.S. live in poverty areas. Not surprisingly, people of color are disproportionately concentrated in poverty areas as well – over 50 percent of all blacks and 48 percent of other non-white and non-Asian races live in poverty areas. Meanwhile, only around 11 percent of whites and 17 percent of Asians live in poverty areas.

Read about who lives in poverty areas in Texas after the jump.In Texas, there are 8.4 million people living in poverty areas. Since there are 26.06 million Texans, that means that 32 percent of Texans – nearly one in three – live in poverty areas. That puts Texas much higher than the national average of one in four, and second only to California in sheer numbers. It also represents enormous growth – only 5.7 million Texans lived in poverty areas in 2000.

A recent article in the New York Times profiles the poverty in Texas, espeically in the colonias in South and West Texas, despite the vast wealth brought on by the oil boom:

“Though the boom has helped produce fortunes for some and comfortable lives for many, for others it exists within a rural landscape of unpaved streets without garbage pickup, where few dare to drink the tap water because it tastes and smells like chlorine…

Texas has reaped tremendous financial benefits from oil and gas. But the poor in the colonias seldom own the leasing rights for the natural resources that lie under the ground they live on. One-third of Texas' $48 billion in tax revenue last year came directly or indirectly from the oil and gas industry, said Bernard Weinstein of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Portions of the revenues go into the state's general fund as well as its so-called Rainy Day Fund, but very little of it is spent on social services and programs to assist the poor, although some helps finance public schools and universities.”

Poverty areas already contribute to entrenched segregation, and the concentrated wealth from the oil boom is only making it worse.

And the impacts of concentrated poverty areas affect not just those living in them, but the whole country. According to Think Progress:

There is plenty of evidence that living in neighborhoods like these erects additional obstacles for people in them: Growing up in poverty shortens a child's life, worsens her health, and undermines her educational prospects, and life in poverty has the same effect on the adult brain as pulling an all-nighter every night. Even for those residents who are above the poverty line, these neighborhoods “isolate their residents from the resources and networks they need to reach their potential,” the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notes.

But the negative effects aren't limited to those living in poverty areas. The concentration of poverty hurts the other three-quarters of the country too, in subtler ways. Because people in poverty areas are less able to reach their potential, the country as a whole is less able to reap the economic and cultural rewards that would come from those people's success. By stymieing their residents' aspirations, poverty areas “deprive the larger community of the neighborhood's human capital.”

These are problems that plague the whole nation. But because Texas's wealth is so much more concentrated at the top, these issues have become Texas-sized.  

About Author

Emily Cadik

Emily is a Texas ex-pat and proud Longhorn living in Washington, DC, where she remains connected to the Lone Star State through her work on BOR and her enthusiasm for breakfast tacos. She works on affordable housing policy, and writes about health care, poverty and other social justice issues.

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