Highest U.S. suburban poverty rates, 2010. Brookings Institution via money.cnn.com

By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
23 September 2011

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – Guess where most people in poverty live? Hint: It's not in the inner cities or rural America.

It's in the idyllic suburbs.

A record 15.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line last year, up 11.5% from the year before, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Census data released Thursday. That's one-third of the nation's poor.

And their ranks are swelling fast, as jobs disappear and incomes decline amid the continued weak economy.

Since 2000, the number of suburban poor has skyrocketed by 53%, battered by the two recessions that wiped out many manufacturing jobs early on, and low-wage construction and retail positions more recently.

America's cities, meanwhile, had 12.7 million people in poverty last year, up about 5% from the year before and 23% since 2000. The remaining 18 million poor folks in the U.S. are roughly split between smaller metro areas and rural communities.

"We think of poverty as a really urban or ultra-rural phenomenon, but it's not," said Elizabeth Kneebone, senior research associate at Brookings. "It's increasingly a suburban issue."

Suburbia's population has boomed among all classes in recent decades as job growth shifted from central cities to their outskirts. Low-wage workers were needed to service this burgeoning number of residents and companies.

Suburbia became home to the greatest concentration of impoverished residents by 2005, Kneebone said. That stemmed in part from the collapse of the manufacturing industry based outside Midwestern cities. The loss of those jobs contributed to pushing many into poverty.

The Great Recession, however, accelerated the rise of the suburban poor, as it did the overall poverty rate.

The downturn also shifted where in suburbia poverty was intensifying. The collapse of the housing market caused the ranks of the poor to spike in Sun Belt communities, such as those surrounding Lakeland, Fla., and Riverside, Calif. Many low-income people had moved there during the boom to make money building and caring for homes or working in the retailers and restaurants that cropped up to service the new residents.

The face of the suburban poor is diverse.

To be sure, there were many suburbanites entrenched in poverty even before 2000. Nearly 10 million people fell below the poverty line at the start of the last decade.

They were then joined by new immigrants, who increasingly skipped the cities and moved directly to their outskirts in search of plentiful, but low-wage, construction or service jobs. The foreign born accounted for about 17% of the increase in the suburban poor between 2000 and 2009, according to a Brookings report.

Also, as wages eroded over the past decade, some people living on the edge found themselves pushed into poverty. For 2010, the poverty line stood at $22,314 a year for a family of four.

"If they are working minimum-wage jobs and see their wages decline or stagnate, they may now see themselves below the poverty line," Kneebone said. […]

Poverty pervades the suburbs via The Oil Drum

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