Ferguson, Mo. Emblematic of Growing Suburban Poverty

Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings Institution, August 15, 2014

Nearly a week after the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., protests continue in the 21,000-person suburban community on St. Louis’ north side and around the nation.


The New York Times and others have described the deep-seated racial tensions and inequalities that have long plagued the St. Louis region, as well as the dramatic demographic transformation of Ferguson from a largely white suburban enclave (it was 85 percent white as recently as 1980) to a predominantly black community (it was 67 percent black by 2008-2012).

But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.

Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.

These changes affected neighborhoods throughout Ferguson. At the start of the 2000s, the five census tracts that fall within Ferguson’s border registered poverty rates ranging between 4 and 16 percent. However, by 2008-2012 almost all of Ferguson’s neighborhoods had poverty rates at or above the 20 percent threshold at which the negative effects of concentrated poverty begin to emerge. {snip}


Within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.

Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.

Suburban areas with growing poverty are also frequently characterized by many small, fragmented municipalities; Ferguson is just one of 91 jurisdictions in St. Louis County. This often translates into inadequate resources and capacity to respond to growing needs and can complicate efforts to connect residents with economic opportunities that offer a path out of poverty.



Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • MekongDelta69

    Thank you Elizabeth Kneejerk, for once again, stating the inanely obvious, which every sentient being with an IQ over 75 has known forever.

    • Tim_in_Indiana

      Stating the inanely obvious, but coming up with all the wrong reasons…

  • Washington, D.C. has Prince Georges County, Maryland. Chicago has South Suburban Cook County. Places where the civic elite of the area are dumping the black undertow to get them out of the core cities to make the core cities safe for hipsters, yuppies, LGBTQMIAPDLOLPLPLTH and gentrification.

    That is North St. Louis County’s purpose for St. Louis.

  • JackKrak

    Jeez, on the one hand a small town’s demographics reversed as much as they possibly could in a span of 30 years and on the other hand that same town’s poverty rate and overall standard of living plunged. I see no connection whatsoever.

    Can I get a job at the Brookings Institution now?

    • APaige

      When you do hire me. I will write a paper on how spreading poverty from the inner city Black ghetto to the suburbs did not change the poverty of the people, just the poverty of the area they moved into. The scene may have changed, but the people who moved were still Black.

      • 1stworlder

        Actually they got better things to steal.

  • The Worlds Scapegoat

    “Ferguson, Mo. Emblematic of Growing Suburban Poverty”

    And the solution is to take more money from struggling middle class white people and give it to the magic negros that invented civilization.


  • Luca

    Same scenario again and again. When blacks move into a neighborhood, Whites and businesses move out, crime, drugs, welfare cases and poverty increase, real estate values and academic achievement plummet.

    However, the liberal media will tell you it’s because of poverty, racism, the economy, lack of opportunity, changing demographics, lack of school funding, inflation, discrimination, blah, blah, blah, etc. ad nauseum.

    No, I say it’s because blacks moved in. Silly me.

    • A Freespeechzone

      It’s also because blacks REFUSE to assimilate by making good decisions–like avoiding drugs, gangs, bad, destructive behavior—and violence.

      You can’t save a group that doesn’t want to rise up—-no sympathies, they literally ‘made their own bed’ and few, if any in the majority will EVER want to be around them.

      I know I don’t….

  • journey

    Another useless article trying so hard to say not the obvious.

  • Frank_DeScushin

    “Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.”

    Sure, it’s the white “power structure” that makes Ferguson a craphole, and not the growing black population. Granted, the city government and police force were even more white before the city was overtaken by blacks, and everuthing was far better.

    Somone on a site I visit questioned how a city with a 70% black population can have a white mayor and only one black council member. Then another person pulled up the voting numbers. Less than 1% of Ferguson’s populace voted, but more whites than blacks voted. Despite having the opportunity to vote and shape their government but failing to do so, the Liberals on the site felt domething should be done to ensure more blacks in Ferguson’s city government. Equality of oppurtunity is never good enough for Leftists. They are only happy with equality of outcome.

    • A Freespeechzone

      Look at ANY black run city in the USA—they are all crapholes. Detroit comes to mind..

      • IstvanIN

        Blacks have destroyed all our major cities and yet “liberals” are blind to this simple fatc.

        • kjh64

          They know, they just won’t admit it.

          • zanegray

            We have ‘blind’ liberals in the UK too.

            They don’t believe much in outdated concepts like God or the Family.

            But they do believe that black misbehaviour is invariably whitey’s fault.

      • John R

        Any black run city, town, community in the US. Any majority black city or community in any other country. Any majority black country as a whole…as a matter of fact, even the one majority black continent, same story. Uhhh, any pattern noted? But, remember, all races are equal.

      • The Worlds Scapegoat

        They ought to make a Sim City computer game where the idea is to completely destroy a city by importing blacks.


      • SoCal88

        Substitute “world” for “USA” and you get the same result.

  • TruthBeTold

    When the White man leaves, he takes all the magical Juju with him.

    • Melvin Bonzarelli

      That’s why there’s always the big push for ‘integrated’ schools. Going to school with white kids will magically raise the grades and the IQ’s of the black students. We just got rid of neighborhood assignment of classes and went to a township-wide redistribution of grade and secondary school students. Didn’t raise the abysmal grades of the black students, but we now get to see a lot of teen-age black males parading down the street after school with one or two blonde white girlfriends hanging adoringly on each arm. Hebbin!

  • MindHead99

    The so called “Anti-Poverty Community” has been conducting social experiments trying to disperse poor blacks from inner cities into suburbs hoping for a miracle. What has happened is crime rates have followed section 8 renters almost exactly where they move to. Destruction of housing projects and gentrification have dispersed the criminals further away from big cities. The Atlantic had a decent article on this called “American Murder Mystery”.
    In my opinion we’re at the point where we need more invasive solutions like tracking bracelets on welfare recipients and making criminals ineligible for benefits.

    • 1stworlder

      actually it gets worse because there is better stuff to steal

    • Kenner

      The chances of the once-great Atlantic magazine printing another article like that are nil. It’s been hijacked by the hard left.

    • Pro_Whitey

      I have observed that the left treats black dysfunction like a poison to neighborhoods, so that if they spread out the poison, the dose goes below fatal and we can have a decent neighborhood. The more fitting hypothesis is that the black dysfunction is like a virus, and when it is spread, it grows in new places, and the dysfunction spreads.

      What an idea, put a bunch of poor, dysfunctional people in a suburb, probably one that did not have much in the way of public transportation, and let them flounder as they cannot get around, get to their welfare office, probation office, etc. Brilliant.

      • Kenner

        I believe the policy of dispersing the pathogens began under Clinton. The idea is to put them ‘where the jobs are’.
        Section Eight housing, one clue you may be unemployable.

    • John R

      I never opposed public housing. At least it was a way to manage blacks and keep them away from decent hard working White families.

    • SoCal88

      The building blocks of “Poverty” are poor people. More poor people = more poverty. It really is that simple.

  • IstvanIN

    Black males have a very high unemployment rate, and, no doubt, some part of that has to do with both hispanic immigration and out sourcing, but how many black males actually want a job or even look for one?

    • Kenner

      Black males have a high unemployment rate because they’re unemployable. Every time I hear some libertarian point out blacks’ high unemployment under Obama, I have to smirk. Libertarians believe young black men want jobs, and think blacks will turn on Obama if they keep pointing this out to them.
      Deep, deep delusion, based on ‘they’re just like us’, and with the right policies, it’ll all turn around.

      • John R

        I hear you. You think that after fifty years we would have got the message. The “social experiment” is over and the results are in.

      • Spikeygrrl

        Nice straw man ya got there, mate. No libertarian I have ever encountered, IRL or online, has ever insisted that young black men want conventional jobs. If you have any citations showing otherwise, please post them here so that I may remedy this gap in my education. TIA!

    • John R

      No, WHITE UNEMPLOYMENT and poverty have a lot to do with outsourcing and immigrant competition. Black pathologies have to do with the behavior of that low IQ race of people with little impulse control and a tendency toward criminal behavior and reckless procreation. IOW blacks being blacks. The races are not equal and you, as a poster on American Renaissance, of all people, should be aware of that. Please, no more excuses for this sub-species of Homo Sapiens.

      • IstvanIN

        I wasn’t making an excuse.

    • SoCal88

      Most are hardcore unemployable. If they show up, they will just sit and do nothing, or steal you blind, and then there’s the attitude thing. The Voice of Experience here.

  • Those poverty stricken knee grows in Ferguson and elsewhere sure do wear their poverty well. They somehow manage to be obese, have smartphones, $200 sneakers, cars equipped with high dollar dubs and ghetto blasting stereos, and more I’m sure.

    Of course, they steal their a lot of their stuff and earn money from selling drugs, but the federal government doesn’t count that as income. Working class whites would like to live as well, I’m sure. But they’re hard working and honest, two qualities the federal government does not reward.

  • kjh64

    Poverty? Don’t make me laugh. All of the “poor Blacks” you’ll note have their expensive “sail fones”, expensive track shoes which they riot over every Christmas, gold jewelry and good clothes, weaves and professionally manicured fake nails. This is because all of these “poor Blacks” live off the White taxpayer aka welfare, section 8 and food stamps. They’re “poor” because they have a bunch of kids out of wedlock, no father, drop out of school or get a criminal record. Whose fault is that? Theirs. Yet, Whitey supports them with welfare and expects nothing in return for the welfare, rewarding them for their bad behavior.

    • TXCriollo

      Ya i was in western ny a few months ago saw poor blacks using food stamps to buy nice food lobster steaks then load it into an escalade sure poor there

  • TXCriollo

    So when its white it is a safe good place to live, blacks take over becomes nasty am i the only one putting 2 and 2 together?

  • John R

    Blacks move in; poverty and crime go up. So, why do you think most White people try and move away from blacks? When are we going to-as a society-just admit the truth that blacks will never be equal contributors to society and that this idea they will be equal is just wrong?

  • MBlanc46

    Wherever blacks go, they take poverty with them.

  • SoCal88

    In this case, the kneebone be connected to the A-hole

  • Augustus3709

    On the bright side, this has been a fantastic opportunity for nature lovers.

    • captainc

      that’s general buttnaked from liberia, what is he doing there?

      • Luca

        He’s doing the two-step shoplift hop.

      • SoCal88

        Stocking up for a party at his granny’s place

  • MissaJim

    It’s unfortunate that we can’t purchase some Caribbean island and just ship all the Obama loving blacks there. Buy out any real estate they might (but probably don’t) have, Give them each a small plot of land and a small amount of money. Give them citizenship in this new country with no allowance to ever return to the US. I’d donate money to this.

    • Augustus3709

      Funny thing is we DO have the money. Just not the authority to use it.

      White tax payers have been fleeced for over a trillion dollars to coddle the blacks. But the more we help them, the worse they get.

      If there was any justice in the world, all that money would have gone to our own People, and today our White cities would put east Asia to shame.

    • SoCal88

      It’s called “Haiti”

  • propagandaoftruth

    Oh it’s the old incapacity regarding cause/effect yet again.
    Let’s see…
    1980 – Ferguson is 85% White. No problems.
    2008-2012 – 67% black.

  • scutum

    James D Watson who is probably the world’s foremost geneticist and molecular biologist created a firestorm of controversy several years ago with his comments about Negroes. “In a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade. Dr. Watson told The Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. The elites know this and are in the process of creating a two tier system with a few very wealthy elites at the top, and all the rest of us living in squalor at the bottom. That is what the push to socialism/communism is all about. There has never been a Marxist nation where the wealth is shared, it is all concentrated at the top in the hands of the elites. Negroes are just a stalking horse for the underlying agenda of the elites.

  • Melvin Bonzarelli

    Most young black males have some kind of criminal record. It’s a badge of honor in their community. So they’re ineligible for any job in law enforcement from the get-go. Former NYC mayor Bloomberg tried to do something about that in his first term. He changed the NYPD hiring rules that so candidates for the city’s police force with juvenile convictions that did not entail the use of deadly force would be considered. In fact, a fair number of such individuals were hired. The program was suspended after two years and several armed robberies by NYC police officers (off-duty and not in uniform, fortunately), one murder – a female cop killed her girlfriend with her service revolver, and at least three NYC police officers in this new crop of hires indicted on charges of collecting welfare while on the NYPD payroll. Reported in the local press, and then dropped the very next day, even scrubbed from the papers’ websites.

  • Don Briscoe

    Just tell the truth, where ever the blacks go they bring drugs,welfare , crime and poverty with them and the smart whites read the writing on the walls and get the heck out this has been going on for decades and the politically correct won’t call it what it is…the black plaque.