December 2, 2020

Study: U.S.’s most under-resourced communities also most severely affected by COVID-19

A new report from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City paints a clearer picture of poverty in the United States.

According to a recent ICIC report, Detroit is one of the most under-resourced communities in America. Photo by Doug Zuba/Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit pocketbooks hard—but unevenly. But these disparities existed long before the pandemic.

The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City recently released a two-year research project that examines in detail the state of poverty in the United States.

Researchers examined 450 cities across the United States. By measuring the poverty rate and the percentage of all poor residents of the city who live in those communities, ICIC researchers were able to determine which cities were the most under-resourced. The top five are all situated in the Rust Belt and have large percentages of residents who are Black:

  • Dearborn, MI
  • Flint, MI
  • Youngstown, OH
  • York, PA
  • Detroit

It’s not a coincidence, however, that these most under-resourced communities have also been heavily affected by the pandemic.

“These under-resourced communities are exactly the communities that are being most affected by the COVID 19 crisis. The report is even more timely and relevant now because of this crisis,” said Howard Wial, Senior Vice President and Director of Research at ICIC. “The eviction process is just going to be another blow to these communities on top of the health blow dealt by the virus itself. It will really be another crisis for these communities—a crisis that really has no economic need for it to happen.”

With its new report, The New Face of Under Resourced Communities, ICIC asserts that our assumptions and perception of poverty in America is lacking.

One key takeaway from the report is that poverty is not solely the dominion of the largest cities. Researchers found that both the total population and the poor population of all under-resourced communities in the country are split evenly between smaller cities with a population below 250,000 and cities with a population larger than that benchmark.

"The time has long since passed when the people who live in the community are going to sit idly by and wait for somebody to impose a solution on them." — Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC

Racial inequality plays a large part in the picture of poverty in the U.S. Researchers found that 52 percent of residents in these under-resourced communities are people of color, compared to 27 percent of all U.S. residents being people of color. Broken down further, Black people make up 31 percent of under-resourced communities, compared to 13 percent of the total population. Similarly, Latinx people are 38 percent of the population of these communities, compared to 18 percent of the national population.

“The racial income and wealth gaps are still there and they are not improving,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC. “Our overarching belief is that concentrated poverty is often linked to the absence of a sustainable small business ecosystem within these under-resourced communities or neighborhoods.”

First founded in 1994, ICIC works to encourage inner-city revitalization.The organization offers programs like Inner City Capital Connections which provides resources and mentoring for small business owners, particularly those who are women, veterans and people of color.

So what can be done to help these communities? ICIC outlined five principles for fighting poverty in conjunction with its recent research report. Chief among these is the idea that solutions have to reflect the strengths of the community in which they are being implemented and that residents must play a major role in revitalization.

“You’ve got to evolve community leadership at the grassroots in any coordinated sustained strategy. The time has long since passed when the people who live in the community are going to sit idly by and wait for somebody to impose a solution on them,” said Grossman. “It’s got to come from within the nonprofits, the entrepreneurs, the incubators, and accelerators. The strategy may be different in Flint than in Harrisburg, but central to all of that has to be the notion that grassroots leadership has got to be part of the solution.”

Businesses must play a part in recovery, ICIC asserts, especially when the organization has seen simple investments create a chain reaction of growth in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Memphis.

“You begin to see companies that work with one another innovate together, work with colleges and universities and research,” said Grossman. “The research turns into startups, the startups turn into larger companies, and hopefully you’ll see among diverse populations, those businesses flourish and grow into something that begins to alleviate some of that economic disparity that exists so often in these under-resourced communities.”

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