The Place-Based Turn in Federal Policy, 1990-2015


Sociological scholarship has been central to advancing our understanding of durable neighborhood disadvantage, but less attention has been devoted to analyzing efforts to alleviate such conditions. In this paper, we assess the growth and unequal geography of federal place- based policies designed to combat concentrated neighborhood disadvantage. We develop a novel longitudinal dataset of federal place-based policies from 1990 to 2015 and find evidence of a substantial increase in funding over that period. Federal funding for disadvantaged places now rivals or outpaces the funding allocated to many federal programs for disadvantaged people. Federal place-based policies are national in their reach, but they are also distributed unequally across neighborhoods. We draw on sociological theory to connect the uneven geographic reach of federal place-based policies to the economic, institutional, and socio-political organization of local communities. We find that federal place-based policy was implemented with greater intensity in counties with more disadvantaged populations, higher levels of economic and racial segregation, a greater density of nonprofit organizations, and tighter housing markets. We close by discussing the implications of the place-based turn in federal policymaking for spatial inequality and social policy.

R&R at American Journal of Sociology