OAKLAND -- The Bay Area has fewer concentrations of extreme poverty than a decade ago, according to a report released Thursday.
That may not console the people living in the Bay Area's five poorest neighborhoods. In five census tracts, four of them in the East Bay, more than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line, according to the Brookings Institution report.
The neighborhoods are in downtown Berkeley, uptown Oakland, Alameda Point and parts of West Oakland, and San Francisco's Hunters Point.
Two are business districts where many homeless congregate; one, the area around Oakland's Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, has been central in the Occupy protests. Others are residential areas with well-kept public housing.
The Uptown Oakland area, which includes some of downtown and the plaza, is a study in contrasts: Despite a glut of new condos meant to attract young professionals, more than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line -- which for a single person means making less than $11,000 a year.
The good news is that in the Bay Area, at least according to the study, these neighborhoods are a rarity. In general, living in a deeply poor neighborhood means children will have fewer educational opportunities and a greater likelihood of failure. Private investors and employers are also more likely to look elsewhere, limiting local job opportunities for struggling residents.
"Most cities have many more people living in very poor neighborhoods," said Brookings researcher Alan Berube. "Very few of the poor in the Bay Area are exposed to conditions of extreme poverty."
Jessica Vasquez could vouch for that. She was surprised to hear her West Oakland home on Victorian-lined Union Street was in an area of concentrated poverty, since the 14-year-old finds it safer and cleaner than the East Oakland neighborhood her family left two years ago.
There, she said, friends whose parents were in dire financial straits often took to gangs or dealing drugs. Here, she said, life seems better.
"I don't think this neighborhood is the poorest."
One of the neighborhoods, Alameda Point, defies the stereotypical idea of an impoverished place.
"We've got a nice, broad, open community, nicely laid out," said Doug Biggs, executive director of the Alameda Point Collaborative, which houses about 500 people who had trouble finding homes elsewhere. "After the closure of the military base, a lot of the housing over here was turned over the programs to serve the ... homeless."
In West Oakland, too, many residents live in the neighborhood off 10th Street because they are eligible for public housing run by the Oakland Housing Authority.
Poverty in his area was no surprise for one longtime West Oakland resident. Ledarren Holden, 24, pointed to a school that closed in 2009 and now is a branch police station. But there have been improvements, such as a nearby health foods store, he said.
"Poverty is not being able to take care of yourself," said Holden, adding that his neighborhood needs "more teaching people trades, building, farming, things like that, I guess just teaching people on a very basic level on how to be more independent."
While the Bay Area has five extremely poor census tracts, metropolitan Philadelphia has 82, Phoenix has 34 and Detroit 123. Concentrated poverty has nearly doubled in Midwestern metro areas since 2000, hitting Great Lakes cities such as Detroit and the Ohio cities of Toledo, Youngstown and Dayton the hardest.
"What was a mild recession in the early 2000s never really ended there," Berube said.
The new numbers are based on census surveys taken between 2005 and 2009, and reflect the entire five-year period.
Nationwide, 10.5 percent of all poor people now live in an "extremely poor" neighborhood, up from 9.1 percent in 2000, but still better than the 14.1 percent rate in 1990.
"The punchline is, a lot of the progress we saw in the 1990s has basically evaporated," Berube said.
On the surface, the Bay Area has fared better. Concentrated poverty in the region has dropped by 1.5 percent since 2000, when the East Bay and San Francisco had eight neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents were poor.
While the urban Bay Area ranks among the lowest in concentrated poverty, Berube said the suburbanization of poverty masks the struggles of some.
Although big cities still have most poor neighborhoods, the number of suburban residents living in concentrated poverty has more than doubled since 2000 as a result of the foreclosure crisis and other economic troubles.
The Bay Area's high cost of living also masks economic problems.
"Being a family of four in the Bay Area, making $22,000, is considerably more difficult than being that same family with that same income in Greenville, S.C.," Berube said.
Local demographer Steve Spiker, of the Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council, cautioned against reading too deeply into the numbers, because they rely on U.S. Census Bureau surveys.
Starting with the 2010 census, the federal bureau stopped asking about income on its once-a-decade questionnaires, and instead relies on annual surveys.
"The margins of error are so poor," Spiker said. "It's a struggle to say anything means anything."
It has become nearly impossible to say for certain how many people are poor in a given neighborhood, he said. "It's a huge problem for us. People keep asking us for poverty data and socioeconomic data, and the census just doesn't give it to us anymore."