New analysis shows more poor people in suburbs than cities

Several Brookings Institution scholars released new analyses showing more poor people now live in suburbs than cities:

As poverty mounted throughout the nation over the past decade, the number of poor people living in suburbs surged 67% between 2000 and 2011 ā€” a much bigger jump than in cities, researchers for the Brookings Institution said in a book published today. Suburbs still have a smaller percentage of their population living in poverty than cities do, but the sheer number of poor people scattered in the suburbs has jumped beyond that of cities.

In the Chicago area, the number of poor in the suburbs increased by 99 percent in the last decade, from 363,966 to 724,233…

More poor people moved to the suburbs, pulled by more affordable homes or pushed by urban gentrification, the authors said. Some used the increased mobility of housing vouchers, which used to be restricted by area, to seek better schools and safer neighborhoods in suburbia. Still others, including immigrants, followed jobs as the booming suburbs demanded more workers, many for low-paying, service-sector jobs.

Change also came from within. More people in the suburbs slipped into poverty as manufacturing jobs disappeared, the authors found. The housing boom and bust also walloped many homeowners on the outer ridges of metropolitan areas, hitting pocketbooks hard. On top of that, the booming numbers of poor people in the suburbs were driven, in part, by the exploding growth of the suburbs themselves.

The shift caught many communities by surprise, the authors found, with public and private agencies unprepared to meet the need in suburban areas.


This analysis is part of a new took titled Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.

This is not new for those who follow suburban trends: the suburban population has become increasingly diverse in terms of social class in recent decades. In fact, there have always been pockets of working-class residents in suburbs since suburbs began in the United States. However, there is a longstanding image of suburbs as mainly wealthy places as those with means left cities.

One other thought: even with the increasing number of poor people in the suburbs as a whole, poorer residents are not likely scattered evenly throughout suburban regions. Take the Chicago area for example: how many poor residents are in places like Kenilworth or Barrington or Lake Forest or Oak Brook versus places like Harvey, Addison, Waukegan, and Elgin? Some of the residential patterns of social class in suburbs then mirror some of the issues American cities have faced for decades, poorer areas isolated from wealthier areas, but with a twist: while all of these city neighborhoods may be under one government, suburbs have varying layers of government, making it more difficult to provide services to pockets of poorer residents. Additionally, wealthier suburbs have effectively limited affordable housing in many of their communities, restricting where poorer suburban residents can live and find opportunities.

6 thoughts on “New analysis shows more poor people in suburbs than cities

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