Downtown Berkeley Ranks Among Bay Area's Poorest Neighborhoods

More than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line in the downtown Berkeley area, according to a recent report.

[Update 11/6/11] Berkeley Patch has requested detailed information about the conclusions drawn in the Brookings report regarding poverty levels in the downtown Berkeley census tract. Click on "keep me posted!" below to receive email updates when the information becomes available.

Downtown Berkeley has one of the highest concentrations of people living below the poverty line in the Bay Area, according to a recent report. The federal poverty level is $10,890 annually for an individual and $22,350 per year for a family of four. 

The Bay Area's five poorest areas are downtown Berkeley, uptown Oakland, Alameda Point, parts of West Oakland and San Francisco's Hunters Point, according to a report on the re-emergence of concentrated poverty from the Brookings Institution.

But the Bay Area has fewer concentrations of extreme poverty than it did a decade ago, and far less than many other metropolitan areas in the U.S. Metropolitan Philadelphia, for example, has 82 extremely poor census tracts. Phoenix has 34 and Detroit 123.

"Most cities have many more people living in very poor neighborhoods," Brookings researcher Alan Berube told the Contra Costa Times. "Very few of the poor in the Bay Area are exposed to conditions of extreme poverty."

Overall, average income in Berkeley has increased. In 1999, the median family income was $70,434 annually, which grew to 95,912 in 2009, according to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey. The income for non-family households has also increased, from a mean of $44,485 in 1999 to $87,723 in 2009.

Across the country, 10.5 percent of all poor people now live in an "extremely poor" neighborhood, according to the report, up from 9.1 percent in 2000, but down from the 14.1 percent rate in 1990.

eileen norton November 05, 2011 at 06:41 AM
This makes no sense. If Berkeley has a median income of $95k (way above the National median income) how can it have a greater concentration of poverty than say Richmond, which has a median income of $44k? Presumably they are saying that Berkeley has a concentrated area of extreme, extreme poverty. And where is this area--the location is very non specific---the "downtown" area---what does that mean? Something is skewing these numbers---either a small number of super-rich are making the median income higher, or a very small number of super-poor are being counted towards the "poverty concentration" result. Anyone have an explanation?
Barry November 05, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Maybe it is all the UC students being counted as living below the poverty line due to zero income for most?
BerkeleyAccountableSchools November 06, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I agree: this is very poorly presented. I poked around on factfinder (the census' data service) a bit and found by-census-tract data for Berkeley. The income-related data that I found was all from 10 years ago, but it strongly suggests that the student population in tracts south of Cal skews the metrics reported here. However, some of the data is pretty bad -- in one tract I saw 100% of the income figures were either "under $10,000/year" or "under $35,000/year." Nothing in any of the other bands, including between those two levels. This suggests poor data collection, at least in that tract. It is also not clear if Emily is comparing apples and apples. The figure she draws from the American Community Survey is for median family income, but some Berkeley census tracts report large numbers of "nonfamily households," including student dorms and retirement homes. I think that if one looked at income for family households, not including students and seniors on medicaid, Downtown Berkeley would look rather different in this analysis. I can't speak for the other four areas. Since Emily stressed *extreme poverty* as the conclusion of this report, specifically for Downtown Berkeley, I will assume that she looked at the study and satisfied herself that it was the only plausible explanation. I would be curious to know her reasoning.
Emily Henry (Editor) November 06, 2011 at 06:47 PM
I agree that the information here is vague, since it was pulled directly from the report — which did not include specific information for the census tract referred to as having a high concentration of "extreme poverty." However, the author of the report has been contacted to provide more detailed information. As soon as it becomes available, I will provide a thorough update.


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