The suburbs were once considered by many to be a retreat from poor economic and social conditions in cities. Now, however, they’re home to nearly one-third of our nation’s poor—and rising. The last decade set in motion this shift in the map of poverty, but the recession exacerbated key economic trends that rapidly increased the growth rate of suburban poverty to more than double that of central cities.
Federal and state governments should take note: This emerging trend calls for a corresponding shift in poverty policies that includes a more regional, all-encompassing approach.
The numbers are startling. Analysis from the Brookings Institute found that since 2000 the number of poor people in the suburbs jumped by more than 37 percent to 13.7 million—also outpacing the national growth rate of 26.5 percent. In a reversal from the beginning of the decade 1.6 million more poor people lived in the suburbs of the nation’s largest metro areas last year than in inner cities. Making matters worse, social service providers are often spread thin in suburban areas, and many have been forced to turn away more poor people as the need grows.
The remarkably high growth of suburban poverty contradicts our commonly held perceptions of suburbs as leafy subdivisions, gated communities, and, in general, refuges from poverty in cities. But this redrawing of the American poverty map should cause us to abandon long-held myopic views of the people and communities that typically see poverty’s effects. Governments should work toward breaking down urban-suburban silos and develop innovative regional approaches to tackle poverty that encompass both city and suburb.
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