Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Poverty in the Metro

Last week I received a piece of literature from LINC titled "The Suburbanization of Poverty in K.C. Area School Districts." The point was to show that poverty was spreading out as the city spreads out. But after looking at it for a while I noticed that there seems to be a much more disturbing trend than poverty dispersion. What is really scary is that poverty is simply growing. It isn't really moving from one area to another. It is just growing everywhere.

The table that LINC sent along showed numbers from 2002-2006. It used kids receiving free or reduced school lunches as the poverty measure. In 2002, 35.3% of students in the metropolitan area (MO only) received some type of lunch assistance. In 2006, the percentage had grown to 41.7%. And it wasn't just a few inner districts dragging down the average. To the contrary, of the 22 school districts surveyed, only one (Lone Jack) didn't see it's percentage grow. Lee's Summit has more poverty. Blue Springs has more poverty. And Kansas City has more despite seemingly being so high (77.8%) that they couldn't possibly have gone up anymore.

This has all happened even as the federal poverty threshold (which is used as the basis for the lunch numbers) has increased at a slower rate than either median income or inflation. That would seem to indicate that the numbers aren't a statistical flaw, but a true picture of growing poverty. But what does that mean?

I suppose you cannot completely rule out the possibility that middle-class and wealthy families are moving to Kansas at a continually high pace. I would like to see comparative data for the Kansas side. But it seems unlikely that could account for the whole picture. What this would really seem to indicate to me (and my rather novice understanding of economic demographics) is that we are seeing a rather precipitous increase in income inequality in our area. That would fit with the way I understand the national picture, but this seems like a particularly vivid example of the local effect.


Anonymous said...

Did you compare this with population and demographics? There has been a big increase in the area of illegal immigrants. Could this explain at least some of the problem?

Jim said...

That is a good question, and I must admit I'm not sure where to find the answer. Income inequality would certainly be on the rise if there were a large number of immigrant families (illegal or not) moving into the area.

It seems hard for me to believe that every school district is seeing enough of an increase in immigrants to acount for the whole picture, but it's certainly worth looking into.


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