The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008

The 1990s were a time of historic economic growth for the United States, and a period when the country made remarkable strides in poverty reduction, as evidenced by near record lows in the poverty rate and considerable declines in the number of high-poverty neighborhoods throughout the country at the time of Census 2000. But 2000 marked a turning point for the economy as a whole and for American poverty. The release of the 2005 American Community Survey provided the first look at changes in city and suburban poverty in the wake of the mild recession of the early 2000s and the jobless recovery that followed. Not only did poverty significantly increase in both large cities and suburbs over this time period, but for the first time more poor lived in the suburbs of the country’s largest metro areas than cities. Though primary city residents were still much more likely to be poor than their suburban counterparts in 2005, the growing presence of poor in suburbs marked a significant shift in the geography of metropolitan poverty.

This Brookings Institute 2010 study looked deeper at these issues, building on previous Brookings research to analyze the location of poverty in America, particularly in the nation’s 95 largest metro areas, in 2000, 2007, and 2008, and how these trends have changed since 2000. The findings from this reveal that:

  • By 2008, suburbs were home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country.
  • Midwestern cities and suburbs experienced by far the largest poverty rate increases over the decade.
  • In 2008, 91.6 million people—more than 30 percent of the nation’s population—fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Western cities and Florida suburbs were among the first to see the effects of the “Great Recession” translate into significant increases in poverty between 2007 and 2008.

These trends are likely to continue in the wake of the latest downturn, given its toll on traditionally more suburbanized industries and the faster pace of growth in suburban unemployment. This ongoing shift in the geography of American poverty increasingly requires regional scale collaboration by policymakers and social service providers in order to effectively address the needs of a poor population that is increasingly suburban.

Read the full report here.

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