Paul Jargowsky on the return of concentrated poverty

My forger former grad-school TA and current Century Foundation colleague Paul Jargowsky just released a beautifully-produced web-report called “Architecture of Segregation: Civil unrest, the concentration of poverty, and public policy.”

Paul is a national leader at understanding the geography of American poverty. It’s a pretty sobering report. The below figure illustrates one reason why. If you wonder why the criminal justice system faces such strains exemplified by misconduct captured in the Black Lives Matter campaign, the harmful trends in residential segregation–abetted by exclusionary zoning and other policies–are essential pieces of the puzzle.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

14 thoughts on “Paul Jargowsky on the return of concentrated poverty”

  1. You've got an egregious typo in the first sentence – I'm pretty sure you mean "former", not "forger".

  2. When I blog, I just correct my typos without acknowledging it in a strikeout. Mistakes of fact or attribution are different IMHO, Each to his own norm.

    I learnt the term "micropolitan". However, 50,000 is a small number for a town. The distinction leaves my municipality of Vélez-Malaga as "metropolitan", with a population of 78,000. This is confusing. A Spanish town that size has a drug and petty crime problem but not organized gangs, say. How about "mesopolitan" for the band from 50,000 to 250,000?

  3. I am not at all sure that it makes any sense to attack the "concentrated" part of the picture, rather than the "poverty" part itself.

    Even so, I don't think forcing income integration will work. A carrot approach might work better (though I'm still doubtful of where exactly that would get us).

    1. This depends on why poverty is "concentrated".

      If poverty is concentrated because people, living throughout society, fall into poverty, and then they move to the concentrations? You move to the slum because you can afford the rent there? Then it makes no sense to focus on the concentrations, they may even be regarded as ameliorative. (Even poor people need someplace to live.)

      OTOH, if poverty is concentrated in particular places because being there, you are more likely to become or stay poor? Makes perfect sense to focus on the concentrated part of the picture, because that's where the thing that's causing poverty is located, and you need to focus your attention there in order to identify and deal with it.

      Like most really interesting questions, the answer to this one is highly fact-bound and contingent.

      So, poverty is highly concentrated in metropolitan areas. Are poor people from other areas moving there? Ought to be possible to find out.

      1. Well, you raise good points but I'm still not so sure. For one thing, I think it's probably going to be "both." Though doing that research you speak of is still a good idea.

        But even if it's the second… what would you do about it? Should we just try to move people around, or should we just try to make them not poor anymore?

        My feeling is, if we transferred $$$ directly … then the people who wanted to move would move. We don't tend to do this in the US, in effective amounts, for a whole slew of psychological, historical (Puritanism, disapproval of the state of being poor) and history of racism/fear reasons, imo … They would probably be better off, the places they moved to would probably not suffer much, and that would be good. This here is a huge big mess of wax — witness the Obama administration's feeble attempts to combat the mortgage industry abuses. (I have a huge bee in my bonnet about centrist Dems… can you tell? Hey, btw, you are the guy that moved to Texas, right? I remember you — hadn't seen you around in while, nice to see you again!) I do believe they did mean well, however. In fact I think most of us do, most of the time. That's what makes it so darn interesting.

        Then there would still be the people who needed help for other reasons.

        Many people here would probably hate the idea of just handing out $$$, and for some good reasons. So, we could try… creating good jobs. There's an idea. How come no one ever wants to do it????

        Now, if it were number one … I'd still think it was a problem. Maybe you wouldn't? I'm not sure. But it is worth talking about.

  4. SC, actually.

    Should we just try to move people around, or should we just try to make them not poor anymore? My own position, frequently expressed, is that more than very short term support should involve a requirement to move away from areas of extremely high unemployment. It makes no sense to pay people to remain where they have no prospect of ceasing to be dependent, and where their children will be lacking for good role models of non-dependency.

    Ideally, I think people should never just be given money. Make work is better than no work, especially if it involves learning real job skills. Why not revive the CCC?

    1. I'm sure you're about to insist that all municipal zoning laws preventing low income housing be voided by the federal government, right? And you also plan to subsidize child care for the people who you have forced to away from their family support systems that they might have been able to use to look after their kids while they're at work, right?

      Otherwise, I'd be forced to conclude that you're really just looking for a way to punish the poor without having any real intent to fix the problems.

      1. I don't believe the federal government has the authority to do that, but it certainly would be a good idea for the states to do it.

        What I'm looking for is a way to get people out of hopeless situations, instead of paying them to stay in them. Taking a place that has no jobs, and hasn't for many years, and turning it into a vibrant economy? Very difficult, and who knows how to do it? Buying somebody who lives there a bus ticket, and sending them someplace the economy already works? Fairly simple.

        1. Not nearly as simple as you think, unless your goal is to have them fail. People need support systems, and you're planning to eliminate them. Your attitude that the federal government doesn't have the power to do this properly, but you want it to do it badly anyway is telling.

  5. Neal, if somebody mentioned a proposal in a blog comment, that advocated a policy you liked, would you apply the same standard? The "If in fifty words I find some vital component unmentioned, the idea is crap." standard?

    I'm not suggesting we take poor people in high unemployment areas, give them a bus ticket, and leave them unsupported at the other end of the trip. I'm suggesting that we offer to support them someplace where they've actually got a prospect of eventually getting off the support, instead of supporting them someplace where it's hopeless.

    I want to write off the inner cities, and save the people, instead of continuing to write off the people, and try to save the inner cities. The people are important. The cities are there for the people, not the other way around. Let the cities fail. We could stand to have more ghost towns, instead of desperately poor communities.

    Will this separate people from their communities? Sure, *and that's deliberate*. How do you fix a self-perpetuating culture of poverty, without interrupting it's transmission? Ever stop to think that maybe poor people in areas with insanely high crime rates are learning the *wrong* things from their neighbors, instead of the right things, and might benefit from getting away from them, and being surrounded by people who know how to lead successful, peaceful lives?

    I'm advocating cultural genocide, because some cultures just need killing. That's the crude way of putting it.

    1. The fact is, I don't believe you. Given the rest of your political philosophy, I'm pretty sure that you will fail to advocate the taxes that this would take. That would take subsidized child care. It would take subsidized housing. It would take a commitment to useful public transportation so that these people could get to jobs and stores.

      I don't believe that you would force people from outside the inner city to provide places for your evacuees to live. Unless you want to pay for all of these evacuees to live in large houses, you're going to have to void lots of zoning regulations and home owners' association covenants. You're going to have to force municipalities to allow more multi-unit dwellings.

      I also think you grossly misunderstand how people build relationships. If you root them up with the intention of severing all of their relationships with their communities, you will breed more failure. You cannot just force people to adopt a new culture. That's just not how human beings behave. They are not just malleable playthings that you can get to fit in in strange, new locations.

      1. I suppose it’s fair enough that you don’t believe me, in as much as I don’t really believe Democrats want to solve the problem of urban poverty, but instead want to encourage dependency in order to farm votes.

        So, fine, keep those people trapped in dead end communities.

        1. Yes, I recognize that your entire position is premised upon the idea that those people do not have agency and might not have rational reasons for the things that they do. It seems to be your approach to many things, and betrays some very unappealing character traits.

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