Charleston ranks high in poverty compared to 'benchmark' metros

In poverty, metro Charleston ranks second worst compared to "benchmark" regions around the U.S.

Most  poor people locally are black. The ratio is more than 3 to 1 black to white, even though the overall metro Charleston population is close to two thirds white.

Here's what a Beyond Catfish Row chart shows about the extent of local poverty compared to its benchmarks:

The eight benchmark regions are included in the "One Region" survey that the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance will be publishing in May. The recently executive summary of the survey says metro Charleston "has the greatest discrepancies in most measures" when compared with benchmark regions in key areas of racial equality and equity. But the summary didn't include any numbers.

The Brookings' survey that Beyond Catfish Row used for the chart above defines poverty two ways - the poor population in census tracts with at least 20% poverty (columns 2 and 3 in the chart) and the poor in tracts with at least 40% poverty (column 4 and 5). 

What urban regions like the Tri-County area are doing and not doing to close minority income gaps and thereby reduce poverty is getting increasing attention as a major factor in their economic vitality, including their ability to compete in global markets.  Amy Liu, VP and Director of the Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program calls closing those gaps an "economic imperative." One way or another, the forthcoming One Region Strategy will have to face metro Charleston's wide gap between white and black incomes.

In one comparison of poverty, Charleston did much better than its benchmarks. That was on levels of concentrated poverty from 2000 to 2012, which aren't on the chart. The 12-year rate of increase in concentrated poverty for Charleston was 45,5%. The increases for the benchmarks ranged from 65.3% in Jacksonville to 1,221.5% in Salt Lake City. The huge increase in Salt Lake City was driven by the small numbers of people in concentrated poverty - 219 in 2000 and 2,894 in 2012.

The Census Bureau's current poverty threshold for a family of three, including two children, is $19,096. That number goes up or down, depending on the size of the family, including the number of children.

TOM GRUBISICH