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Evan Horowitz

Dodos, dinosaurs, and mixed-income communities

What makes a neighborhood vibrant? Good restaurants, unique stores, transportation options, and usable public spaces can all help. But what if you’re looking for a place with a good mix of people? Middle-class, rich, and poor all sharing streets, schools, and community life?

New numbers out today suggest that it may be getting harder to find that mix of rich and poor neighbors. Across the US, the number of poor people living in mixed communities has been dropping, and the number in high-poverty communities, or so-called “poverty areas,” has climbed.

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Back in 2000, if your family was below the poverty line, there was about a 44 percent chance that you were living in a high-poverty community. By 2010, those odds had jumped to 54 percent.

And this really does matter for low-income families and kids. Living in poverty is already bad, but living in a “poverty area” brings additional hurdles, like higher crime rates and worse schools. It means that poorer families are more cut off from the opportunities that would help them move up the income ladder and join the middle-class.

Massachusetts is not exempt from this national trend. Here too, low-income folks are increasingly likely to live in high-poverty areas. But there is some good news for the Bay State. We have a lower poverty rate than the nation as a whole. And compared to other states, the number of people stuck in high-poverty neighborhoods is still relatively low.

Moving forward, it’s possible that as the economy improves, opportunities will increase, the overall poverty level will drop, and the pull of these “poverty areas” will weaken. For now, though, economic segregation seems to be on the march.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz.
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