If you think more poor people are living in the DFW area in recent years, you could be spot-on. Heck, after the 2008 recession you could be one of them. According to a recent Brookings Institute study, DFW, land of the suburbs, is quickly turning into the land of the slums.
Elizabeth Kneebone authored the study. She says the general national increase in poverty levels is a result of the recession. "The overall poverty trend in the Dallas metro area is demonstrating the same trends we've been seeing nationally, but is even ahead of the curve in some ways," she said. "It's even faster than average."
Kneebone found that the population of poor people in DFW grew nearly 65 percent from 2000 to 2012, and that population is becoming concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. More than 56 percent of DFW residents below the poverty line live in neighborhoods with similarly high poverty rates, up from 40 percent in 2000. Perhaps most striking, impoverished neighborhoods are increasingly located in DFW suburbs.
"From 2000 to 2012 the poor population for suburbs more than doubled, in just over a decade. It's not that poverty isn't growing in cities, it's just that it's growing at a faster rate in the suburbs," Kneebone says. "Poverty has grown, but it has not grown evenly."
One possible reason for this is the high number of Dallas suburbs. In all, the DFW region is the fourth largest metro region in the country and is composed of around 6.8 million people. But only about 1.2 million live in Dallas proper -- and that's assuming you don't count affluent Lake Highlands or Highland Park neighborhoods as suburbs.
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But the problems that accompany suburban poverty are just now starting to be recognized among advocacy groups. Kneebone says charity groups and aid workers have typically concentrated their efforts in urban areas, which leaves suburban poor people without the same public resources as inner-city indigent populations.
Many jobs that were created post-recession were minimum wage jobs located in corporate hubs just outside the city, suggesting another reason for the rise in suburban poverty in recent years. "It can create more entrenched and generational poverty," Kneebone says. "Creating more jobs may not pay enough to get a family off the poverty line."
The side effects for higher geographical concentrations of poverty are many: Residents of distressed neighborhoods are more likely to receive a worse education at failing schools, have poorer health, live in areas of higher violent crime rates and have fewer job and job networking opportunities.
"If anything this trend in poverty underscores how regional these issues are, that it's both cities and suburbs. And it's going to require a more regional response to make sure we're not creating more pockets of poverty," Kneebone says. "Understanding that these issues are becoming more regional in scope should be a catalyst for helping communities collaborate because it affects not just the neighborhood but the broader region. So it's something that all communities should be invested in addressing."