New Study: More Poor People Now Live In The Suburbs

You may have already seen the quiet growth of poverty in the suburbs.

Not a good place for poor people, because the suburbs are greatly lacking in the kind of aid programs you can still find in most cities, and they're usually very sporadically served by public transit, making car ownership more of a necessity than it would be in a city:

Bucking longstanding patterns in the United States, more poor people now live in the nation's suburbs than in urban areas, according to a new analysis.

As poverty mounted throughout the nation over the past decade, the number of poor people living in suburbs surged 67% between 2000 and 2011 — a much bigger jump than in cities, researchers for the Brookings Institution said in a book published today. Suburbs still have a smaller percentage of their population living in poverty than cities do, but the sheer number of poor people scattered in the suburbs has jumped beyond that of cities.

Authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube cited a long list of reasons for the shift.

More poor people moved to the suburbs, pulled by more affordable homes or pushed by urban gentrification, the authors said. Some used the increased mobility of housing vouchers, which used to be restricted by area, to seek better schools and safer neighborhoods in suburbia. Still others, including immigrants, followed jobs as the booming suburbs demanded more workers, many for low-paying, service-sector jobs.

Change also came from within. More people in the suburbs slipped into poverty as manufacturing jobs disappeared, the authors found. The housing boom and bust also walloped many homeowners on the outer ridges of metropolitan areas, hitting pocketbooks hard. On top of that, the booming numbers of poor people in the suburbs were driven, in part, by the exploding growth of the suburbs themselves.

The shift caught many communities by surprise, the authors found, with public and private agencies unprepared to meet the need in suburban areas.

"The myth of suburban prosperity has been a stubborn one," said Christopher Niedt, who as academic director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra Universityis familiar with the trend Brookings described. Even as suburban poverty emerged, "many poorer communities were so segregated from the wealthy in suburbs that many people were able to ignore it."

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