February 29, 2016

The Suburbanization of Poverty

A recent Penn Institute for Urban Research article reflects on demographic and economic changes since 2000.  It notes that “as poverty grew to record levels in the 2000s, it touched more people and places than before.”

Historically, poverty was largely associated with “distressed inner cities and declining and isolated rural communities.”  But in recent years, suburban poverty has markedly increased: the number of people living below the federal poverty line in suburbs grew by 65% between 2000 and 2012 — more than double the rate of growth in big cities and rural communities. 

The author notes that the “suburbanization of poverty” results from changes in the housing and labor markets.  For example, as cities are redeveloped and people move into the city, housing prices increase, prompting low-income individuals to move to more affordable areas outside the city.  And, in recent years, job sprawl has played a role — more and more low-wage jobs have moved to the suburbs.

The author notes that many suburban communities do not have the  municipal staff, charitable infrastructure, or institutional experience to address rapidly increasing poverty, nor do they have sufficient public transit or other services that help low-income individuals connect with opportunities and ascend the economic ladder.