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Education is one of the best ways to get ahead in America. So, why do so many young people from poor backgrounds drop out? An economic paper published this month by the Brookings Institution suggests one possible answer, and it has nothing to do with grades or test scores. Maybe, for kids who grow up poor, with evidence of inequality all around them, dropping out of school just seems like the rational choice. 

It should be the opposite. Most economists would say, kids who start out at the bottom of the economic heap should have the incentive to get as much education as possible. Many economists believe the problem really comes down to skills. Young people trying to climb up out of poverty want to be highly educated, the thinking goes. They just don't get the right skills and training along the way. In this model, the education system itself is where the problem occurs, and that's where the fix is needed.

But the new Brookings paper by economists Melissa Kearney and Philip Levine (who we previously mentioned here) suggests the problem lies elsewhere.

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A recent research brief from the Brookings Institution takes a look at the startling rise of concentrated poverty in America over the past decade or so. 

The brief finds that the number of neighborhoods in the U.S. where at least 40% of residents are considered poor has risen by more than 70% since 2000. That is to say, poverty has become more concentrated in certain areas. That's significant because the Brookings researchers say people living in areas of concentrated poverty face a "double burden" – their own poverty, and the poverty of those around them:

The challenges of poor neighborhoods – including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities – make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

The problem of concentrated poverty has been spreading to places you might not expect: the suburbs. Brookings finds that the number of neighborhoods with at least 40% of people living in poverty has grown by 150% in the suburbs since 2000. That's about triple the rate of growth in urban areas during the same time. 

And there's one metropolitan area in Michigan where the rise of suburban poverty stands out: Grand Rapids.