Where Do America’s Poor Live? In the Suburbs

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The suburban poor now outnumber the poor in U.S. cities.

Nearly 16.4 million suburban residents in the U.S. live below the poverty line — almost 3 million more than the number of poor people who live in cities.

That’s a 64 percent increase between 2000 and 2011, according to the Brookings Institution’s “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. In cities, the population of those living below the poverty line grew by 29 percent.

The poverty line for a family of four was $23,021 in 2011.

Authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube say this has been a long time coming. It was driven by population growth, a shift in the locations of affordable housing and jobs, and the growing prevalence of low-wage jobs.

Overall urban population grew by 4.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared with 14 percent in the suburbs. Meanwhile the unemployed suburban population nearly doubled in the aftermath of the recession — from more than 3.1 million in December 2007 to nearly 6.2 million three years later, census figures show.

Suburban jobs in construction, restaurants and retail dried up when the recession hit, and many of those with higher-paying jobs also fell into poverty, CNN says.

Suburban areas aren’t well-equipped to help these people, the authors argue. Most of the $82 billion spent annually by the federal government to alleviate poverty goes to cities, the authors said.

One solution they propose is to have Congress create a competitive grant program for states.

“It would deploy a fraction (5 percent) of what is now spent on community-based anti-poverty programs and re-allocate it as a challenge to regions and states to improve low-income residents’ access to jobs, transportation, high-quality schools, or affordable housing across urban and suburban lines,” they say.

You can read a summary of the book here. The hardcover is about $26.

Stacy Johnson

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