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The Changing Spatial Concentration of Income and Poverty Among Suburbs of Large U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Working paper #396
Janice Fanning Madden

After developing a longitudinal database of civil divisions within 27 large metropolitan areas (MSAs) from the 1970 – 1990 U.S. Censuses, this study examines changes in the spatial concentration of income and poverty within these MSAs. A series of cross sectional analyses of geographic and social determinants of poverty rates and median household income are used to analyze whether the determinants are changing over time. Large, older central cities in the northeast and midwest have experienced increasing poverty and decreases in income relative to their own history and relative to their own suburbs. There is some evidence of economic decline in the inner suburbs of these central cities relative to other suburbs, but not relative to the central cities. The geographic shifts in MSA population among suburbs by income between 1970 and 1990 are analyzed relative to initial social characteristics of civil divisions. The study concludes that the filtering of older residential buildings to, and the lower marginal preference for land of, lower income groups contributes to the rising poverty rates and decreases in median household income for all central cities and for the inner suburbs of the northeastern and midwestern MSAs. The study finds little evidence that either “white flight” or the non-poor’s avoidance of taxes to support the poor are important factors in the shifts of population among suburbs.

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