PERSISTENT POVERTY ACROSS THE RURAL-URBAN CONTINUUM
Miller, Kathleen K.
Weber, Bruce A.
Persistent poverty is overwhelmingly rural and is very geographically concentrated. We have redefined the USDA ERS persistent poverty classification to include metropolitan counties meeting the 20 percent or higher poor criterion and we extend the time period through the 2000 Census. With this updated definition, there are 382 counties that have had poverty rates of 20 percent or more in each decennial census between 1960 and 2000. These persistent poverty counties are overwhelmingly rural (95 percent) and disproportionately rural (16 percent of nonmetro counties versus 2 percent of metro). The local economic environment in persistent poverty counties is much less favorable than in the nation as a whole. Per capita income is lower and unemployment rates higher in persistent poverty counties. Employment is more concentrated in services, extractive, construction/maintenance, and production/transportation occupations. Residents of persistent poverty counties tend to have lower education levels, and persistent poverty counties generally have larger shares of minority populations. The number of persistent poverty counties reduced considerably during the 1990s, but the "leavers" were disproportionately metropolitan, making persistent poverty increasingly a rural problem. Persistent poverty is overwhelmingly rural and it is very concentrated geographically. In this paper, we examine these striking regularities in U.S. economic geography, seeking to understand the causes and dynamics of poverty across the rural urban continuum. We also consider how alternative characterizations of "persistent poverty" and "rural and urban" might deepen our understanding of poverty and place. The paper has four sections. In the first, we examine how poverty and persistent poverty vary across the Rural Urban Continuum Codes and Urban Influence Codes developed by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). We start with the very useful "persistent poverty" classification developed by ERS that defines nonmetropolitan counties as persistent poverty counties if the poverty rate is 20 percent or higher in each decennial census between 1960 and 1990.We redefine persistent poverty to include metropolitan counties meeting the 20 percent or more poor criterion and we extend the time period through the 2000 Census. We also examine where poverty is concentrated in the United States and how persistent poverty varies across the new Core Based Statistical Area definitions for counties, developed recently by the Office of Management and Budget. In the second section, we examine how the demographic characteristics of the population vary across the rural-urban spectrum, comparing persistent poverty county demographics with those of all counties. The third section examines the dynamics of poverty and place. We examine the location, rurality and demographics of counties that escaped persistent poverty statues between 1990 and 2000, and how those characteristics compare to counties that remained in persistent poverty. We then identify the new entrants into high poverty since 1960. In the fourth section, we consider implications of reconceptualizing both "persistent poverty" and "rural and urban diversity". First, we explore the "persistent poverty" county classification, and how alternative definitions of persistent poverty counties might alter the conclusions one reaches about the geography of persistent poverty. We do this by exploring how defining persistent poverty with a different base year such as 1970 or 1980 affects the number of "persistent poverty" counties. We then explore what happens to "persistent poverty" if we raise the poverty threshold to 30 and 40 percent in defining persistent poverty counties. We then examine how conclusions about rural and urban persistent poverty change if one looks at poverty persistence in individual households rather than counties. Using PSID data, this analysis examines rates of persistent household poverty by looking at how the percent of households who remain in poverty for all 5 years during the 1993-98 period varies across central metro county to remote rural county continuum (an aggregation of Beale codes). Finally, we briefly explore how conclusions about the geography of poverty change if one divides metropolitan areas into "central city" and "suburb", and nonmetropolitan areas into "adjacent" and "nonadjacent."
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