Why Is Poverty So Surprising?

When I learned recently from the census data that 31 percent of the people in Provo were living below poverty level, I was surprised. After several conversations with friends and family, I also discovered I’m not alone; it really is kind of shocking to think of every third person in the city living on very low wages (or in some cases no wages at all).

In reality, however, segregation according to income levels or so-called social class shouldn’t be too surprising. This is a common topic in city-related writing — indeed poverty is one of the primary focuses among urbanists — but Richard Florida recently offered a short and useful breakdown that may offer insights applicable to Provo.

Writing specifically about Vancouver and citing a new study, Florida points out that in reality three cities exist: an affluent one, a middle class one, and a disadvantaged one.

Provo and Vancouver are very different places, but the general surprise at Provo’s poverty levels — and even the median income levels, which are low compared to other cities — suggests that there is perhaps some income segregation going on here as well. It’s dispersion is certainly unique to Provo, but if it exists that segregation could pose an obstacle to actually making real change. It’s hard to fix something, after all, that seems invisible or only barely extant.

And in any case, as I’ve been arguing all along improving these levels in Provo will benefit everyone.

Provo has a lot of very well educated, high skill people. It also has a high poverty rate. Is it possible that people in those demographics don’t cross paths very often? Could segregation be an impediment to finding real solutions?

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