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March 1991, Vol. 114, No. 3
Mark S. Littman
H as the total population living in poverty areas increased or decreased over the last two decades? And, have the poor, in the Nation as a whole as well as in our cities, become more clustered in areas of high poverty concentration, contributing to the formation and growth of what some analysts term an "underclass?" This article attempts to answer these questions, taking advantage of data on the distribution of the poverty area population that have been available for nearly two decades.
Since 1972, social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population living in poverty areas have been derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and published annually by the Census Bureau in its Current Population Reports P-60 series and by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Employment and Earnings.1 Although the definition of a "poverty area" has not changed over time, there are major stumbling blocks to analysis of trends in these data, because of changes in the definition of metropolitan areas since the early 1970's, and the updating of the list of poverty areas in 1985 to reflect the results of the 1980 census. Changes in the metropolitan area definition not only affected the number of cities included in the "central city" category, but also had a dramatic impact on the proportion of the Nation's poverty area population estimated to be living in nonmetropolitan areas. The following discussion describes these analytical problems and attempts to isolate those trends that do seem clear despite data inconsistencies between 1972 and 1989.
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1 In addition, data are available for 1979 and 1969 from the 1980 and 1970 censuses, respectively (or subsamples of the full samples) using the same definition applied in the CPS. These decennial census poverty area data have been used by the other Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for determining enterprise zones and by the U.S. Public Health Service in developing target areas for various services and in some funding formulas. Also, data are available for families living in poverty areas of large cities in 1959 from the 1960 census and for 1966 from the CPS using a related (but different) definition.
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