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Study: Working Poor Families Grow More Concentrated In Poor Neighborhoods

By JANICE PODSADA | Courant Staff Writer

August 12, 2008

Working poor families are becoming more concentrated in extremely poor neighborhoods in most U.S. metro areas, a new study shows but Greater Hartford appears to be bucking the trend.

The study, being released today by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, analyzed the ZIP code locations of tax filers claiming the federal earned-income tax credit in 58 metropolitan areas in 1999 and 2005. The percentage of families in those metropolitan areas claiming the EITC a federal anti-poverty program only available to low-wage workers is rising in the very poorest ZIP codes, ones in which at least 40 percent of filers claim the credit.

Nationally, the percentage of EITC families in those high-poverty ZIP codes increased from 10.4 to 12.3 percent, the report said. The increase is a result of a rise in the number of working poor, the report said not a rise in the number of tax filers who claim the EITC because they became aware of it.

In the Northeast, the concentration of working poor in high-poverty communities increased from 12.6 percent in 1999 to 17.6 percent in 2005. That's largely because the number of ZIP codes with very high poverty rates grew from 49 in 1999 to 69 in 2005.

A strong overall economy in the 1990s, combined with housing programs aimed at helping the working poor, were able to alleviate some of the deepest concentrations of poverty during that decade, said Alan Berube, a Brookings research director and one of the study's authors.

"Now, we're in a decade of very different economic circumstance," Berube said. "We ought to redouble our efforts to get the economy going, but we also need to redouble our efforts around policy measures aimed at alleviating the deepest concentrations of poverty."

New Haven appeared to mirror the national trend, as the number of extremely poor ZIP codes expanded from one to two. In Hartford in 1999 and 2005, only one ZIP code 06120 in the North End had at least 40 percent of filers claiming the EITC, and the percentage claiming the credit who lived in that ZIP code out of all Harford-area households fell slightly, from 3.9 percent to 3.2 percent.

Although the Brookings study is thought-provoking, several factors could skew the findings, said Douglas Hall, acting managing director at Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven nonprofit agency.

For example, he said, outreach efforts are underway in low-income neighborhoods to raise awareness of EITC.

"Poverty is a 'big city' problem, but it is also a suburban and rural problem in Connecticut," Hall said, noting that 46 percent of poor children do not live in any of Connecticut's five largest cities.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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