The new suburban sprawl: poverty

Poverty, quite obviously, is still a bigger problem in the city than the suburbs, but a new report from Brookings says the rate of poverty is increasing in suburbs more than cities. The number of “distressed” neighborhoods has grown by 78 percent in the 2000’s, with much of that increase coming in the suburbs.

Of poor residents living in concentrated poverty in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, 26 percent lived in the suburbs in 2008-2012, up from 18 percent in 2000, the report says.

The largest increases appear to be in the Sun Belt states.

While it ranks 88th out of 100, the Twin Cities is hardly immune. The number of poor people increased by more than 68 percent since 2000.


  • davehoug

    More info is needed. The services in suburbs are tougher to access unless there is a car in the house. Also this is exactly what the Met Council has been trying to achieve. This brings up a lot of questions, perhaps interview those on the council who have been pushing suburbs to take their share of the poor?? Interview case workers what, if any, unique problems come from being poor in the car-culture suburbs, easier or harder and why??

  • John

    Are poverty levels set based on income? If so, that makes my parents (who are retired and have an income of approximately zero) poor. They are not.

    So, if poverty level is set based on income, it stands to reason that the places where people go to retire would have higher poverty rates. Also, I think retirees tend to head toward the suburbs, or rural areas, rather than urban (I have zero data to back this up, it’s just based on anecdotal evidence) – partly because of a reduced cost of housing and partly because it’s quieter.

    Sorry, I didn’t read the article. it may be addressed, but I don’t have time this morning to do so.

    No doubt poverty is an issue, but like Dave said, more info is needed.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      Income is counted in many ways. If your parents are living off savings, pension and Social Security in retirement they have income. They still file income taxes and that would classify them as poor, middle class, etc.

    • mplstransplant

      While elderly poverty is certainly an issue, we should be discussing, it is unlikely that it is driving these trends (although it could be one contributor). Child poverty in the first-ring suburbs is increasing over time, so this is not just a story about older adults in the suburbs.

  • Thomas Mercier

    Like John, I’m curious about the influence of the aging populations of suburban areas contributing to this change.
    I’m also not thrilled by the comparison of the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey data sets. While close these aren’t exactly the same product and that might have an influence on the subsequent findings.
    The reliance on sampled data from 2008-2012 most likely includes some influence from a period of significant financial duress that has been at least moderately alleviated by this point. And while it’s true that the sunbelt states are the ones with the greatest increase, these (at least at first glance) also appear to be metro areas of smaller populations which might make them even more susceptible to the effects of sampling during this period.
    This might be a hugely important finding, however the “research brief” is just that; a brief overview of the data without much effort to delve deeper into the plausible contributions and the limits of the process of analysis usually contained in more thorough reports. This is a good conversation starter, but not a final finding.

    • mplstransplant

      The ACS replaced the long-form census. Additionally, the five-year ACS numbers Brookings uses to compare 2008-2012 to 2000 were designed by the Census Bureau to be comparable to prior decennial numbers for trend data.

      Over the last decade, poverty researchers from economics, geography, sociology and public policy have been discussing the poverty in the inner ring suburbs. It is about time that a publicly oriented think-tank brought this to a wider audience.

  • Jean M

    This does not surprise me at all. If you look at the cost of rent skyrocketing in the cities, people move where the rent is cheaper; the suburbs/outskirts.

  • ptoadstool

    The article says that some areas are rural and unincorporated rather than what we usually think of as “suburbs”. I think most of us would expect rural poverty to be a somewhat different problem. In our city (a genuine city in its own right, though thought of by core city residents as suburban) we are actively incorporating affordable housing that is not concentrated. This will help employment and mobility for our new neighbors who are looking to make their lives better.