Analysis: A New Approach to Defining Persistent Poverty

Posted by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity on August 29, 2023

In a new analysis by the Daily Yonder, Keith Wiley and Joe Belden discuss how switching from using counties to census tracts in order to define persistent poverty may hurt rural communities and their chances when competing for federal dollars. In a detailed new report, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) says that using counties as the unit of evaluation for “persistent poverty” means that poor urban neighborhoods get overlooked when their economic performance is averaged with more prosperous parts of an urban county. The result is a picture of persistent poverty that skews rural.” However, a change to the definition of measuring poverty may have unintended consequences. Rural communities already often struggle to receive government assistance and lack the dedicated funds, which larger urban communities receive, which come with relatively large federal programs such as the entitlement portion of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. For programs and policies where rural communities represent a relatively small part of communities eligible for assistance, the result is often that larger urban areas win most of the support.  Wiley and Belden agree that there needs to be a fairer way to measure persistent poverty across the country, but emphasize that it “does not need to be a zero-sum game where one area/region is pitted against another.”

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