Black Poverty, Segregation, and "Concentration' or "Neighborhood" Effects
The central theme of this book is that the concentration of blacks in highpoverty urban areas, with adverse effects on their quality of life, also may affect their health (Fig. 1-1). The previous chapter addressed segregation as one of the two elements of this combination of factors. This chapter describes features of the distribution of poverty or low income among African-Americans, including temporal changes in black poverty rates in certain urban areas.
The terms poverty and the poor are generally used not only in an ill-defined colloquial sense but also according to a well-established (albeit highly criticized) offical government definition. The poverty threshold as originally defined by the Social Security Administration in 1964 was based on a determination that families of three or more persons spent (in 1961) one-third of their income on food. Thus, the cost of a nutritionally adequate food plan designed by the Department of Agriculture was multiplied by three, and factors were developed to adjust for differing family sizes. The U.S. Bureau of the Census has provided annual modifications of poverty thresholds, based solely on adjustment for the annual consumer price index (CPI), relative to CPI in 1982-1984. The average thresholds for a family of four persons were $2,973 in 1959, $3,743 in 1969, $7,412 in 1979, $12,674 in 1989, and $14,335 in 1992.
Federal poverty thresholds were intended to indicate an income level, adjusted for family size and age, sufficient for adequate nutrition, not to be an indicator of deprivation or destitution. However, the lack of change in the methodology for calculating poverty thresholds over time has had the effect that such thresholds are now indicative of very low income. The declining relevance of the poverty threshold is due in part to a decline in proportion of income spent on food (vs. housing and other expenses), with a somewhat counterbalancing effect of increases in noncash or "in-kind" public assistance benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing subsidies.