Suburban Poverty and the Geography Problem

I'm working on a story for an upcoming issue of Governing that takes a look at the increasing rates of poverty in suburbs across ...
by | March 23, 2010
 

I'm working on a story for an upcoming issue of Governing that takes a look at the increasing rates of poverty in suburbs across the country.

Part of the rise is attributable to basic population demographics:  There are simply more people than ever before living in suburban communities.  But that's not the whole story. Over the past few years, the rate of suburban poverty growth has solidly outstripped the rate of suburban population growth. So the problem is bigger than just a shift in where people live. The fact is, increasing numbers of people who live in suburbs are finding themselves unable to make ends meet.

That, of course, is a real problem, because the social service safety net is still very much centered on inner cities.

One of the people I've spoken to for this story is Scott Allard, an associate professor at the University of Chicago, who's done a lot of research into the poverty issues, particularly the rise of suburban poverty.

Allard's research shows just how bad the problem is.

For example, take this map of access to employment services in the Chicago area:

Chicago

As Allard's map shows, if you need employment services and you live in central-city Chicago, great. But woe to the people on the South Side. And over the past decade, those outlying areas are the places that have seen the majority of poverty growth.

Or check out this map of similar data for the Washington, D.C., area:

Dc

Again, the employment services are heavily concentrated in the central city. But it's the suburbs that are increasingly seeing the need for these kinds of services.

So the rise in suburban poverty is something of a double-edged sword: Not only are there more and more people in the 'burbs who need that social safety net, there are fewer services available to them.

It's just one slice of the whole suburban poverty problem, but I found Allard's maps incredibly interesting.  You can read more at Scott Allard's Web site.

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