News & Politics

Alarming New Poverty Trend in America

The rise of suburban poverty can cause major problems in communities that lack resources for helping the poor.

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Despite rosy pronouncements of economic recovery, the US poverty rate remains high: 15 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line in 2012, according to the US Census. 
A new brief by the Brookings Institute shows that US poverty is also mutating in a horrifying new way. "Today, more [poor] residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty," notes the report's author Elizabeth Kneebone.
Urban areas still have more so-called distressed neighborhoods, where 40 percent or more of the residents live below the poverty line, than the suburbs. While 23 percent of the urban poor live in distressed neighborhoods, just 6.3 percent of poor people reside in the suburbs, according to the report. Still, the suburbanization of poverty is a troubling development bound to create problems for communities that lack basic infrastructure for aiding the poor. As Jordan Weissmann points out in Slate, "The public transport systems are meager, the schools don’t offer English-as-a-second-language courses for immigrant children, and there aren't the same networks of charity organizations dedicated to working with struggling families."
Kneebone strongly suggests that officials get on addressing this problem now, before there's an explosion of highly concentrated poverty in the suburbs of the kind seen in cities.
"Policymakers and practitioners can learn from regional leaders who are finding innovative ways of making limited resources stretch further to confront the regional scale of poverty. These leaders are crafting approaches that work across urban and suburban boundaries and connect decisions around housing, transportation, workforce development, and jobs to provide stronger pathways between low-income residents and regional economic opportunity, regardless of where they live."