Hickory Street in Detroit, photographed in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. Photo: Scarbane

By Josh Sanburn
2 August 2014

(TIME) – The suburbs aren't the middle-class haven many imagine them to be as new numbers show 16.5 million suburban Americans are living beneath the poverty line.

Colorado Springs is often included on lists of the best places to live in America thanks to its 250 days of sun a year, world-class ski resorts and relatively high home values. But over the last decade, its suburbs have attained a less honorable distinction: they’ve experienced some of the largest increases in suburban poverty rates.

The suburbs surrounding Colorado Springs now have seven Census tracts with 20% or more residents in poverty, according to a report released Thursday by the Brookings Institution. In 2000, it had none. In those neighborhoods, 35% of residents are now considered to be below the poverty line, defined as a family of four making $23,492 or less in 2012.

“We’ve seen this all over the state,” says Kathy Underhill of Hunger Free Colorado, a statewide anti-hunger organization, referring to the growth of suburban poverty. “But I think the American public has been slow to realize this transition from urban poverty to suburban poverty.”

Poverty in the U.S. has worsened in neighborhoods already considered to be poor, but it’s now becoming more prevalent in the nation’s suburbs, according to the Brookings report.

“Poverty has become more regional in scope,” says Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution and a co-author of the report. “But at the same time, it’s more concentrated and it’s erased a lot of the progress that we made in the 1990s.”

In the last decade, the number of Census tracts considered “distressed” — in which at least 40% of residents live in poverty — has risen by almost 72%. The number of poor people living in those neighborhoods has grown by an even faster rate—78%—from 3 million to 5.3 million. In 2000, the percentage of poor people who live in economically distressed neighborhoods was 9.1%. Today, it’s 12.2%. [more]

The Rise of Suburban Poverty in America

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