By 2011, 30 million residents in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas lived below the federal poverty line. That represents an increase of 1.7 million people over 2010, or a growth rate of 5.9 percent. As in previous years, that growth skewed toward suburbs. Suburban communities in the nation’s largest metro areas saw the poor population grow by 6.8 percent compared to a 4.7 uptick in cities, and accounted for almost two-thirds of the increase in the metropolitan poor population (63.4 percent). As was the case in 2010, 55 percent of the metropolitan poor lived in suburbs in 2011, which translates to 2.6 million more poor residents in suburbs than in cities.
The slowing of poverty’s upward trajectory signals a promising—if stubbornly slow—response to the recovery that began to take hold in the wake of the Great Recession, though the soft job market that has prevailed since the recession ended and the unevenness of that recovery can be seen in other troubling income trends. Between 2010 and 2011, 25 of the nation’s largest metro areas experienced a significant increase in income inequality (as measured by the Gini index), compared to 11 regions the year before. Increasing inequality affected a diverse array of regions, from metropolitan Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco to Kansas City, St. Louis, and Louisville. In each of these regions, inequality grew alongside rising poverty and falling incomes.
I am most interested in one trend mentioned above: the growing poverty numbers in suburbs. Not only did the poverty rate increase more in suburbs than in cities, there now over 2.5 million more poor residents in suburbs than in cities.
Of course, the growing number of poor people in suburbs are probably not evenly distributed across suburbs (or perhaps even metropolitan regions). I would guess that inner-ring suburbs have higher poverty as do working-class suburbs. How much have declining incomes and persistent unemployment hurt wealthy suburbs?