Broke in the Burbs: The Country's Cities May No Longer Be the Epicenters of Poverty

Article excerpt

AFTER 18 MONTHS OF UNEMPLOYMENT THAT HAS refused to budge below 9.6 percent, it will come as no shock to learn that poverty is on the rise in the United States. The latest data from the Census Bureau reveals that 44 million Americans--one in seven--are currently struggling at the U.S. poverty line, $22,050 a year for a family of four. Twenty-one percent of all U.S. children are growing up poor. That's up from 16 percent just 10 years ago, and it's the highest measure of poverty in the country in more than 50 years.

But what may come as a surprise is where the poverty is. The Brookings Institution reports that poverty is increasingly migrating to the suburbs. Though concentrations of poverty remain highest in urban communities, there are now 1.5 million more poor citizens living in the suburbs than in cities. The recent rapid growth of poverty in America's commuter belt has been unprecedented, and it has only been accelerated by the Great Recession.

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Demand is spiking among suburban social aid providers. According to Brookings, almost three quarters of suburban nonprofits report seeing more clients with no previous connection to safety net programs. A majority are seeing more families with food needs and more frequent requests for mortgage or rent payment help.

Suburban poverty is a significant problem because, while social services of all sorts can be found in the nation's urban centers, these critical safety valves simply aren't available in the suburbs. It's unlikely that such agencies are going to be relocated or reconstructed there by hard-pressed local and state governments. And the nation's poor aren't likely to "commute" to social services when just getting through the day is challenging enough.

According to Brookings, suburban safety nets for the poor are comprised of relatively few social service organizations that stretch operations across much larger areas than their urban counterparts. And when funders are considering where to direct their dollars, suburban providers are often overlooked. …