The suburbs stir up a lot of associations in the popular imagination. It covers territory as diverse as Leave It to Beaver and Blue Velvet. What the 'burbs don't usually evoke is poverty. For decades the war on poverty has been fought mostly in urban centers, but according to a new study out today from the Brookings Institute, the battlefield has shifted to their outskirts.
The report, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, surveyed 95 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The research shows that between 2000 and 2011, while the number of Americans living below the poverty line in cities rose 29 percent, the number living in suburban areas rose 64 percent. In Dallas-Fort Worth specifically, the number of suburban poor doubled between 2000 and 2011, from 224,443 to 474,023, giving DFW the 12th highest growth rate out of all the cities surveyed.
The study cites many factors for these trends: lack of affordable housing, job sprawl, immigration, economic issues. The authors note that these were causing an increase in suburban poverty well before the recession hit, but the economic downturn exacerbated the problem in some areas.
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"There were a lot of suburbs that were at the forefront of the recession, places that built too much housing," Alan Berube, one of the two authors of the study, told The Dallas Morning News. "And when prices fell and people couldn't buy because of the mortgage crisis, employment and the economy in those places dried up quickly."
A third of the American poor (those earning less than $23,000 a year for a family of four, according to the Department of Health and Human Services) now live in suburbia. That's more than are living in major cities, where things like social agencies and public transit provide more of a safety net. These are regional issues, but the Brookings Institute's findings show there's a pretty big need to revamp how the U.S. addresses poverty.
"These are really shared challenges," Elizabeth Kneebone, the other author, told The Atlantic. "The more people can recognize that their community is a part of this trend, that maybe their neighbor is affected by growing poverty, that hopefully would help galvanize some action around this."