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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Toledo area poverty rise worst in U.S.

'Extremely poor' in region jumped 15.3% since 2000

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The concentration of poor people living in Toledo's poorest neighborhoods grew by more than 15 percent in the past decade, giving the metropolitan area the unenviable distinction of No. 1 among American's largest metro areas.

More than 46,000 people reside in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher in the metro area -- which includes Lucas, Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties -- with all but one of the 22 poor neighborhoods located within the borders of Toledo, according to a Brookings Institution study of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country.

Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of Lucas County Job and Family Services, said she was not surprised at the city's top rank for impoverished people living in extremely poor neighborhoods.

She said the number of people receiving food-stamp assistance nearly doubled over the last 10 years, going from about 51,000 people to 96,000.

"We definitely have seen in the areas where there has been a continuous decline are the areas where we have the highest concentration of people using benefits," she said.

Overall the number of impoverished people occupying extremely blighted housing tracts grew by 15.3 percent over the last decade.

El Paso, Youngstown, Baton Rouge, Detroit, Jackson, Miss., New Haven, Conn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Dayton, and Hartford, followed Toledo in the rankings.

"The change in concentrated poverty went up highest among the metropolitan areas studied," said Carey Anne Nadeau, researcher and co-author of the new report "The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty: Metropolitan Trends in the 2000s."

According to the analysis that was released Thursday, nearly one out of three poor people live in the poorest housing tracts in the city, an increase of 19.4 percent from 10 years ago. Toledo ranked 10th in growth among cities. Youngstown was at No. 2 and Dayton and Detroit, at No. 3 and 4, respectively, were among the cities with higher rates of increase.

Nationwide, 2.2 million people or 10.5 percent of the country's poor population live in extreme poverty neighborhoods, a 9.1 percent jump from 2000, Brookings reported.

"We lost ground against concentrated poverty in the 2000s," said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate and lead author of the report by Brookings, which is an independent public policy group based in Washington. "More people are living in areas that are extremely poor, and concentrated poverty now affects a greater swath of communities than in the past.

"People who live in extremely poor areas shoulder a double burden," Ms. Kneebone said. "Not only do they struggle with their own poverty, but their surrounding communities have fewer job opportunities, lower-performing schools, higher crime rates, and more public health problems. Being poor in a very poor neighborhood makes it that much harder to get out of poverty."

The study used census data from 2000 and the American Community Survey estimates from 2005-2009 to track changes in the population of poor neighborhoods.

Ms. Kneebone attributed the downturn in the economy among the reasons for increased poverty growth. She singled out Toledo and Detroit as examples of Midwest cities that were struck hard, in part, because they never fully recovered from the 2000-2001 recession.

"Two downturns and falling incomes over the last decade fueled a rapid growth in the poor population, which contributed not only to a reconcentration of the poor in very poor urban neighborhoods, but also to the development of new pockets of poverty in hard-hit suburbs," she said. "These neighborhoods are on the economic margins, last in when times are good, and first out when things get bad. More and more communities are balanced on that knife's edge."

While the Brookings report found that cities still had the bulk of poor neighborhoods, concentrated poverty grew twice as fast in suburbs, especially in the Midwest and South. African-Americans remain the largest population segment in the extremely poor neighborhoods, but compared to 2000, those neighborhoods saw percentage increases of white, native-born, homeowners, holders of a college or high school degree, and people ineligible for government benefits.

Abbey Mortemore, deputy director for St. Paul's Community Center in downtown Toledo, said the center has seen an increased need for services in recent years. The center, which serves the chronically homeless, has a waiting list for beds.

"It's touching many levels of folks," she said. "You are seeing it across the board for people who need some assistance or help."

The author of the report suggested that a regional approach could be helpful in addressing issues ranging from land-use and economic development to safety-net services currently being handled at the local, state, and national level.

"Concentrated poverty walls off vulnerable families from educational and employment opportunities, and holds back our economic recovery," Ms. Kneebone said. "We need smart regional policies that reduce economic segregation and foster stronger connections between lower-income communities and areas of opportunity throughout our metropolitan areas."

ONLINE: Brookings Institute Study

Staff writer Nolan Rosenkrans contributed to this report.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com, or 419-724-6099.



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