Nineties Saw Breakup of Poverty Clusters

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Byline: John Elvin, INSIGHT

Nineties Saw Breakup of Poverty Clusters

The number of people living in urban or rural concentrations of poverty declined dramatically in the 1990s, according to a new study by the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution. In some cases, the numbers are astonishing. In Detroit, for example, those living in areas where the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher declined by 75 percent during the decade.

In general the major declines were noted in metropolitan areas of the Midwest and South. Figures for the Northeast were practically unchanged in the decade, while in the West numbers increased by a substantial amount: 26 percent. As noted, the changes were in urban and rural areas; there was almost no change noted in suburban areas.

There also were some odd exceptions, according to Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems: The Dramatic Decline of Concentrated Poverty in the 1990s. In the Washington area, for instance, the numbers nearly doubled for those living in poverty, a fact attributed to a fiscal crisis that saw many of those residents who could afford to do so leaving for the suburbs.

The declines were indicated for all ethnic groups, according to the study, though evident particularly among blacks, whose numbers of those residing in areas of concentrated poverty dropped by 36 percent. The number of white residents in these areas dropped by 29 percent. Figures for Hispanics actually increased by a very small amount, 1.6 percent, but at the same time the number of Hispanics living in the United States increased by an astonishing 57.6 percent. Thus, even the figures for Hispanics were viewed in the analysis as "a positive outcome."

The study of concentrations of poverty is important, the report says, because poor people "tend to live near other poor people in neighborhoods with high poverty rates." Therefore, "concentrations of poor people lead to a concentration of the social ills that cause or are caused by poverty." Such social ills might include low-performing schools, lack of role models, various temptations of inner-city life and lack of basic necessities. To put the situation in perspective, it is noted that such concentrations, in the form of "blighted areas" of high poverty, doubled between 1970 and 1990.

So what are we to make of all this? The report is careful to point out that the changes do not suggest a decline in numbers of people who qualify as poor. However, the disappearance of ghettos and barrios is seen as a healthy trend. The report warns that more study is needed of "inner-ring suburbs," which may become a new gathering place for the poor, and that the downturn of the economy since the decade of the 1990s may have erased some of the apparent gains.

The study used U.S. census data and defines poverty according to official U.S. guidelines. The guidelines are adjusted each year. As an example, in 2002 a family of four living on $18,400 would be at the poverty level.

Activists Still Fighting War of Free Speech On Campus

Shades of the 1960s. According to an Associated Press report, students and activists on college campuses around the country are taking the institutions to court over rules they claim inhibit free speech. One focal point of the controversy is the offering of designated areas on campus where students can carry on as they like. The protesters say such rules are in effect a ban on speaking their minds anywhere else at the colleges and universities.

Another issue is the ban in effect or under consideration at some institutions that target "offensive speech." The article notes several actions along this line. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group seeking greater freedom for student expression, sued Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania due to its rules against attitudes or conduct that might "annoy" others. The university claimed the rules were needed to combat "unconscious attitudes toward individuals which surface through the use of discriminatory semantics. …