Confronting Suburban Poverty in America

Posted by on June 03, 2013

Study highlights increase in suburban poverty

A new study of the Philadelphia suburbs shows that they are getting steadily poorer.

The study, conducted by the Brookings Institution and called Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, said that growing suburban poverty is becoming a national trend. Across the US, the population of poor Americans in the suburbs grew by 64 percent from 2000 to 2010, twice as fast as the growth of urban poverty.

“People have this clichéd notion of poverty being based in the inner city,” Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.  “But it’s been moving into suburbia for some time.”

While the rate of poverty in Philadelphia remains almost three times higher than in its suburbs – the city is the poorest of US cities with a population of 1 million or more – the report showed that the city’s suburban counties registered an increase in poverty between 2000 and 2010.

The Brookings report showed that 28 percent of Philadelphians are poor, compared to 8 percent of suburban residents.  The largest growth was in Camden County, where the rate when up 3 percent, and in Delaware County, up 2 percent.

Suburban poverty is usually less visible than urban poverty.  “There’s an invisibility,” Jan Leaf, executive director of the Lord’s Pantry food bank in Downingtown, told the Inquirer in a report on the study. “People pass all those restaurant parking lots out here that are packed with cars and have a hard time believing there are many people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

The reasons for the growth in suburban poverty, the Brookings report said, are the loss of jobs during the recession and its aftermath, the impact of foreclosures, and a growing population of lower-income immigrants moving to the suburbs.

For the suburbs to stop the slide into poverty, institutions dedicated to helping the urban poor need to look outside the cities, the report said.

The report puts forward a series of recommendations for public, private, and nonprofit leaders seeking to modernize poverty alleviation and community development strategies and connect residents with economic opportunity.  It also includes a website and an Action Toolkit so that anyone can be a part of confronting suburban poverty.

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