New study examines children's exposure to neighborhood poverty

University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting two key findings as they examine neighborhoods where American children live and play the 1990s were a pretty good decade for minority children, yet African-American, Hispanic and American Indian children "continue to be exposed to dramatically higher rates of neighborhood poverty than their white and Asian counterparts." The research paper, "Children's Exposure to Neighborhood Poverty and Affluence in the Unites States," by co-authors Jeffrey Timberlake, assistant professor of sociology, and Joseph Michael, a doctoral student in the UC Sociology Department, will be presented at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at the 101st annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Montreal, Canada.

Timberlake and Michael used U.S. Census data from 1990-2000 to track changes in the distribution of children from five racial and ethnic groups in five neighborhood poverty types:

Affluent Poverty rates of less than three percent
Low poverty Poverty rates of three to ten percent
Moderate poverty Poverty rates of 10 to 20 percent
High poverty Poverty rates of 20 to 40 percent
Extreme poverty Poverty rates greater than 40 percent

The racial groups studied were white, Asian, African-American, American Indian and Hispanic. The data collection focused on all U.S. Census tracts broken down by urban area type: metropolitan, central city, suburban, and non-metropolitan (small towns and rural areas). The research also compared all four Census regions: Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

"We discovered a couple of striking patterns," says Timberlake. "Overall, children's exposure to the poorest neighborhood type declined substantially, from five percent in 1990 to 3.2 percent in 2000. African-American children benefited the most, as families with black children living in the poorest of neighborhoods declined 44 percent, from 18.3 percent in 1990 to 10.3 percent in 2000.

"However, we also found that poor white children, on average, are more likely to live in non-poor neighborhoods than non-poor African American, Hispanic and American Indian children. Almost half of black children and over 40 percent of American Indian and Hispanic children reside in neighborhoods with poverty rates in excess of 20 percent in 2000, compared with only 11 percent of white children and 17 percent of Asian children."

Regionally, the researchers found the South held the largest percentage of high poverty (22.1 percent) and extreme poverty (4.4 percent) neighborhoods of the four Census regions. The authors write that the 1990s appeared to benefit the Midwest the most, as the percentage of low poverty neighborhoods increased about 19 percent and the percentage of extremely poor neighborhoods declined by more than 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels.

Previous research on social influences of impoverished neighborhoods and their effects on children have pointed out how those conditions affect school performance and lead to increased risk of behavioral problems and teen pregnancy. The paper points out that for at least three decades, African-Americans and Hispanics have been both residentially segregated and living in dramatically higher rates of poverty than their white counterparts.

Timberlake concludes that overall, the 1990s were a beneficial decade for children representing the three most disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups. As cities recovered from economic turbulence in the 70s and 80s, he says the economic growth of the 90s may have trickled down to the poorest of neighborhoods, yielding a big impact on the concentration of poverty.

The paper states that neighborhood conditions for children are "dramatically affected by the health of the national, regional, state and local economies," meaning significant and prolonged economic development is the key for improving the financial conditions of neighborhoods in the future.

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The study was supported by funding from the University of Cincinnati Charles Phelps Taft Research Center.


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I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost