More poor people now in suburbia

American suburbs are often imagined as homes to primarily the middle and upper classes. However, new figures from the US Census suggests the number of poor people living in suburbs continues to grow:

The analyses of census data released Thursday show that since 2000, the number of poor people in the suburbs jumped by 37.4 percent to 13.7 million. That’s faster than the national growth rate of 26.5 percent and more than double the city rate of 16.7 percent…

Cities still have higher poverty rates — about 19.5 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in the suburbs. But the gap has been steadily narrowing. In a reversal from 2000, the number of poor people living in the suburbs now exceeds those in cities by roughly 1.6 million.

Analysts attribute the shift largely to years of middle-class flight and substantial shares of minorities and immigrants leaving cities in the early part of the decade for affordable housing and job opportunities in the suburbs. After the housing bust, their fortunes changed, throwing millions of people out of work.

To recap: in terms of absolute numbers, there are more poor people living in suburbs than in large cities. As a proportion of the population, cities have higher percentages of poor people compared to suburbs. And the number of poor people in suburbs has grown more since 2000 than the number of poor people in cities.

On one hand, these figures should challenge the typical images of suburbia as a wealthy paradise. On the other hand, there have always been some poor and working-class people in suburbs – this is nothing new, suggesting the typical image has always been somewhat wrong.

What will be interesting to watch is how suburban municipalities respond to the growing number of poor people.

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