Urban Poverty

According to the World Bank, urban poverty is characterized by limited access to education and employment, insufficient finances, as well as poor social protection mechanisms. Insufficient access to health care services, lack of secure housing and utility services, as well as high exposure to environmental risks are other features of the poverty in urban communities.

The study of urban poverty had its roots in Europe and the United States in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, when industrialization reshaped the urban landscape. A seminal work in the field was The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845) by Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), which linked industrialization, the labor process, and the worsening living conditions in slums. A focus of the early studies was to make public the problem of urban poverty and they were influenced by investigative journalists like Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) and even the socially aware works of fiction in the novels of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). In England, social reformer Charles Booth (1840-1916), for example, made use of the earlier work of journalists for his classification of the laboring classes, Life and Labour of the People of London (1902).

In the 1920s and the 1930s the field was largely influenced by the Chicago school of sociology, which linked the problems of urban poverty to ecological factors, such as family structures. The Chicago School also pioneered studies on topics like juvenile delinquency and slums, thus laying the social scientific basis for the interpretation of urban poverty. In the 1960s and the 1970s urban poverty was most often treated as cultural pathology, with anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1914-1970) arguing in favor of the "culture of poverty," thesis, which attributed persistent poverty to certain behavior.

In the 1980s and the 1990s studying of urban poverty was focused on the urban underclass - the poorest of the poor inhabitants of cities, and the way these people live in post-industrial environment, often without a job or even the prospect of steady work. Modern methods of studying urban poverty are largely quantitative. Sophisticated money-metric measures use income or consumption to gauge whether a household can afford to buy a basic basket of goods at a certain point in time. But the quantitative measures can also be based on basic need satisfaction, assets of a household, and even on vulnerability (the probability that a household will suffer some problem in the future).

Descriptive studies are still present, in the form of the participatory methods, such as interviews of the poor or case studies. Many of the present methods of exploring urban poverty are focused on the drawing of the so-called city poverty profile - a spatial tool, defining the extent and nature of poverty within a given urban area.

Urban property studies highlight its different characteristics across the globe. By 2010, South Asia was the region with the highest number of urban poor in the world. It is the host of five mega cities - Mumbai, New Delhi, Calcutta, Dhaka, and Karachi, which have giant slums. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region characterized with the most rapid rate of urbanization in the world. Along with this, poverty rates are growing and in 2007 between 40 percent and 70 percent of urban residents were found to be poor or extremely poor. The region is also estimated to have the highest prevalence of slums and the lowest access to safe drinking water in the world. It also has the worst sanitary conditions and access to healthcare, factors which explain the spread of HIV/Aids and malaria.

Urban poverty in the Middle East and North Africa is characterized by challenges like scarcity of water and a high urban unemployment. Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing urban poverty marred by social problems like gangs, crime and violence. Urban poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is largely due to the economic transition and the decline of state-managed companies. Much of the poor population is located in cities previously hosting large industrial enterprises which are now defunct.

Urban poverty rates in East Asia and the Pacific are relatively low, but one-third of the urban population there lives in slums, with the tendency most pronounced in China. International organizations have looked at lessons of the past, which show that cities that take measures to upgrade slums manage to reduce poverty. Countries that have effective macroeconomic policies to bolster economic growth are also successful in cutting urban poverty rates.

Urban Poverty: Selected full-text books and articles

Invisible City: Poverty, Housing, and New Urbanism By John Ingram Gilderbloom University of Texas Press, 2008
The Concentration of Poverty within Metropolitan Areas By Aliprantis, Dionissi; Fee, Kyle; Oliver, Nelson Economic Commentary (Cleveland), No. 2013-1, January 31, 2013
Theories of Urban Poverty and Implications for Public Housing Policy By Curley, Alexandra M Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Vol. 32, No. 2, June 2005
Land Use and Housing Policies to Reduce Concentrated Poverty and Racial Segregation By Orfield, Myron Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 33, No. 3, March 2006
Making Cities Work: Prospects and Policies for Urban America By Robert P. Inman Princeton University Press, 2009
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "Poverty: Poverty Among Inner-City Children"
Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty By Xavier de Souza Briggs; Susan J. Popkin; John Goering Oxford University Press, 2010
Legal Title to Land as an Intervention against Urban Poverty in Developing Nations By Atuahene, Bernadette The George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 36, No. 5, January 1, 2004
The Effect of Income Distribution on the Ability of Growth to Reduce Poverty: Evidence from Rural and Urban African Economies By Fosu, Augustin Kwasi The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 69, No. 3, July 2010
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Ghettos in Canada's Cities? Racial Segregation, Ethnic Enclaves and Poverty Concentration in Canadian Urban Areas By Walks, R. Alan; Bourne, Larry S The Canadian Geographer, Vol. 50, No. 3, Autumn 2006
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Combating Poverty in Winnipeg's Inner City, 1960s-1990s: Thirty Years of Hard-Earned Lessons By Silver, Jim; Toews, Owen Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Vol. 18, No. 1, Summer 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953 By Janet Y. Chen Princeton University Press, 2012
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