While the pains of eviction have been felt broadly across the U.S. in recent years, Matthew Desmond (American Journal of of Sociology, August 2012) shows that women in poor, predominantly African American neighborhoods have taken the hardest hit.

Analyzing Milwaukee County records from 2003 to 2007, Desmond found that, even before the recession, half of all evictions occurred in predominantly black, impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods. Women in these neighborhoods were disproportionately affected: they accounted for just 9.6% of Milwaukee’s total population, but 30% of all evictions.

Based on surveys and ethnographic research, Desmond argues that both structural factors (falling incomes relative to rising housing costs) and gendered responses in the face of impending eviction (for example, women may try to reach out to personal networks for help, but these personal networks may offer fewer resources) contribute to black women’s disproportionate eviction rates.

Even so, from the start, women in these neighborhoods face an unequal risk for eviction simply because they are more likely to sign rental agreements: criminal convictions increasingly bar African American men from the rental process. Eviction and conviction are, thus, intertwined forces that restrict housing options for African Americans.