More poor people live in the nation’s suburbs than in urban cities, because of affordable housing, service-sector jobs and the increased use of housing vouchers, according to a study released Monday.
The number of those in poverty living in suburbs jumped 67 percent between 2000 and 2011, a much larger increase than in cities, researchers for the Brookings Institution said. Suburbs, however, still have a smaller percentage of the poor than cities do.
The report notes that poor people were pulled to the suburbs by more affordable homes, and followed jobs that were often low-paying. But those who moved to the suburbs also saw manufacturing jobs disappear and housing prices plummet following the economic recession.
“The myth of suburban prosperity has been a stubborn one,” Christopher Niedt, academic director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, told the Los Angeles Times. Even as suburban poverty emerged, “many poorer communities were so segregated from the wealthy in suburbs that many people were able to ignore it.”
Suburban cities have been ill-equipped to handle the surge. In Irvine, the nonprofit Families Forward used to hand groceries to about 25 families every week; now it’s more than 160. The estimated number of poor people in Irvine rose from more than 12,000 to nearly 21,000 in a decade, Brookings found.
“Everything is nicely maintained. Things look good on the surface,” said Margie Wakeham, executive director of Families Forward. “But the need has just skyrocketed.”
The newspaper said poverty shifted to the suburbs earlier in Los Angeles than nationwide. About half of the poor in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana and their outskirts have lived in suburbia for decades, according to Brookings’ analysis. That percentage rose to 53.4 in 2011.
The report also shows a slight increase in New York City suburban poverty.