While the 1990s were a time of economic growth and declining poverty in the United States, the year 2000 marked a turning point. A mild recession was followed by a “jobless recovery,” and poverty rates began to increase. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of the U.S. residents living in poverty increased at nearly twice the growth rate of the population as a whole. This translates to an increase in the national poverty rate by 0.8% to 15.2% in 2008.
A 2009 paper by the Brookings Institution, “The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008,” finds that this new increase in poverty, unlike those during previous downturns, has taken place primarily in suburban areas.
The study was based on the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2007 and 2008 American Community Survey. Its findings include:
- Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25%, almost five times faster than primary cities.
- Midwestern cities and suburban experienced the largest poverty rate increases over the decade, climbing by 3% and 2.2% respectively.
- Sun Belt metro areas such as Miami and Tampa saw significant increases in suburban poverty, as did the areas of Los Angeles, Riverside, and Phoenix. Based on increases in unemployment over the past year, Sun Belt metro areas are expected to experience greater poverty growth in the future.
- Northeastern metro areas, New York and Worcester in particular, saw poverty rates in their primary cities decline, while their suburbs experienced a slight increase.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that public policy should focus on firming up social safety nets for the suburban poor. In addition, greater regional collaboration between public agencies and non-profit providers would help to meet these needs.