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Report: One In Seven Louisvillians Live In Areas Of Concentrated Poverty

A new report from the Greater Louisville Project shows some 84,000 Louisville residents live in areas consumed by concentrated poverty.

Concentrated poverty stems from a combination of low income, few jobs, poor education levels and bad health, according to the report. It's a concept rooted in the Brookings Institution's multidimensional poverty index.

Louisville is home to some of the starkest examples of such poverty among 17 cities studied by the Greater Louisville Project, an independent, research-focused nonprofit.

Ben Reno-Weber, the group's director, said researchers at the nonprofit examined data from more than 3,200 U.S. Census tracts across each of Louisville's 16 peer cities. They found two areas in the city rank among the highest in terms of concentrated poverty: Parts of the Portland and Russell neighborhoods.

Louisville as a whole had the third-highest rate of residents living in concentrated poverty, the report found.

"The level to which we have packed poverty into smaller and smaller spaces was very surprising to me," Reno-Weber said.

Living in an area with high levels of concentrated poverty can have detrimental impacts on a person's life, Reno-Weber said.

The report found that residents living in Louisville's four most highly concentrated areas of poverty — including parts of east downtown and just to its south — live about a decade shorter lives than those that live in the least impoverished areas. Further, residents in poorer areas are more likely to be uninsured, unemployed, uneducated and earn less money, the report shows.

Getting just those four poorest areas to the city's "average" level of concentrated poverty, the report found, could lead to 5,200 fewer children living in poverty and give each resident in those areas up to eight more years of life.

Reno-Weber wants this report to "arm" organizers at all levels of community and civic leadership and help guide investment efforts aimed at disrupting concentrated poverty, he said.

"Addressing that is going to require us to have a different level of coordination," he said. "Those sectors have to communicate in a different way."

Mayor Greg Fischer joined Reno-Weber and other city leaders at an event Tuesday afternoon to discuss the findings. At the event, the mayor said addressing concentrated poverty can't fall on just one entity -- whether that's the government, community centers or nonprofits.

Instead, Fischer said, all aspects of the community need to focus on collaboration.

"At this point, the data is there and we'll go to work studying it and seeing what we can do," he said.

Sadiqa Reynolds, executive director of the Louisville Urban League, was among those who presented during the nearly hour-long event at the Urban League headquarters, near 15th Street on Broadway.

She said it's baffling that the length of a person's life can vary so much depending on a zip code.

Reynolds said the report should put attention on areas struggling to overcome concentrated poverty. And following that attention, she said, should be investment of time and money.

"Our city has the capacity," she said. "But do we have the courage, the desire?"

See the full report here.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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