2013 December

Suburban Poverty in the News

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The Denver Post, Getting help to more of the poor in Colorado’s suburbs

The Denver region’s geography of poverty and opportunity has changed rapidly since 2000. In just 12 years, the number of metro Denver residents living below the federal poverty line (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) almost doubled. By 2012, the metro area’s poor population numbered more than 332,000 people, and almost two-thirds of those residents lived outside Denver’s city limits.

Read Elizabeth’s op-ed>>

Bridge Magazine, Suburban poverty continues to grow in Michigan

In Michigan, Grand Rapids saw its suburban poor increase nearly 88 percent since the 2000 census; in the Detroit Metro area, it’s closer to 115 percent. All of the state’s 14 congressional districts saw an increase, a trend reflected elsewhere in the industrial Midwest.

Read the article>>

The Tampa Tribune, Food stamp use up in wealthiest suburbs

According to a Brookings study released this summer, food stamp use in the suburbs has doubled nationwide. The majority of food stamp recipients now live in the suburbs, not the cities.

Read the article>>


Related Articles

A sampling of recent publications we have been reading

Concentration of Poverty in the New Millennium

The first report to compare the 2000 census data with the 2007-11 American Community Survey (ACS) reveals the extent to which concentrated poverty has returned to, and in some ways exceeded, the previous peak level in 1990.

Read the report>>

Living Cities Blog, Strong Community Relationships and Presence Key to Successful CDFI Expansion 

Joe Neri, the CEO of IFF, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit community development financial institutions (CDFI) provides lessons learned on how institutions can grow and expand successfully.

Read the blog post>>

Pittsburgh Post-GazettePoverty by design: Pittsburgh suburbs have long been home to the poor 

In Pittsburgh, growing poverty is the result of trends that are well known: factory closings, the loss of blue-collar jobs, stagnant wages, an inadequate social safety net, the decline of unions and persistent inequality, particularly along lines of race. Today’s economic system produces poverty as a matter of course; attacks on unions and an already limited welfare state further exacerbate the situation. That said, poverty always has been common in Pittsburgh’s suburbs.

Read the opinion piece>>

NPREpic Commutes Face Those Caught in Public Transit Puzzle

It’s a sign of the times: More people are commuting for more than an hour to get to work, and many of the longest commutes are at least partially on public transportation. Take Sarah Hairston’s commute from her apartment on Chicago’s South Side to her part-time job at a shelter for homeless teens on the north side of town.

Read and listen to the story>>

Supporting Immigrants in the Suburbs

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Houston and Suburban DC Form Strong Partnerships to Help New Americans

By Barbara Ray

In 2008, Audrey Singer wrote what would turn out to be an ahead-of-its-time book, The Rise of New Immigrant Gateways.  In it she identified a new phenomenon—immigrants bypassing the original gateway cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles in favor of new gateways, such as Charlotte, Atlanta, and Seattle.  She also identified the trend of new arrivals hopscotching past the central city and settling in the suburbs.

In the intervening years, a recession grabbed the nation’s attention, and immigration reform took on new momentum with movements like the push to pass the Dream Act.  Yet one thing remained: the new gateway destinations, including suburbs, continued to grapple with the surge of newcomers. Immigrants accounted for about one-third of the population growth in the nation’s suburbs during the 2000s, and roughly 17 percent of the increase in the suburban poor population.

Immigration BlogA recent symposium at the University of Southern California convened by the MacArthur Network on Building Resilient Regions picked up where Singer left off, reporting on the fates of immigrants in some of these new and old gateways. The case studies looked closely at what makes some communities welcome immigrants and causes others to pull up the welcome mat.

The factors that matter?  Among other things, the rapidity of change, the diversity of the immigrant groups (more diversity makes it harder to scapegoat one group), whether the business community frames immigration as good for the local economy, and—two factors that our colleagues Scott Allard and Benjamin Roth and Sarah Reckhow and Margaret Weir have studied in recent years— the nonprofit and philanthropic base on the ground.

While foreign-born residents accounted for less than one-fifth of the growth in the suburban poor, new immigrants bring a particular set of needs that suburbs are often unprepared to effectively address, from more ESL teachers to child care or reliable transport to work.  Shannon Gleeson, co-author of a recent article in the American Journal of Sociology, told the USC group that newer gateways are more likely to be free riders on central city services, in part because they lack a mobilization structure and a rich base of nonprofit social supports.

One reason for the scarcity of charitable organizations and foundations in suburbia (even though the growth of foreign-born residents in suburbs typically exceeds that in central cities) is that immigration and poverty are still largely invisible there. Still viewing themselves as upper-middle-class bastions, where the PTA and crime watch programs are the only social services needed, suburban residents and their political leadership often don’t even see the immigrants (or poverty) in their midst, Gleeson reports.

In addition, if there’s no strong base of either nonprofits or foundations, it’s nearly impossible to spur the public-private partnerships that are so crucial to solving today’s toughest problems amid tight budgets.

Indeed, the nation can have the best-designed federal policy for supporting struggling families, but if there’s no organizational capacity on the ground, it’s a moot point.

Neighborhood Centers is one example of a scaled nonprofit that is helping the Houston metro area build that capacity in the suburbs and across the metro region. The organization has developed an array of immigration and citizenship services to help new immigrants successfully integrate, build skills, and connect to opportunity in the growing regional economy. Its scaled-but-local approach has allowed Neighborhood Centers to respond to the unique needs of the different neighborhoods in which it works. For instance, when residents of the Houston suburb of Pasadena identified a need for more English language courses to serve the growing immigrant population, Neighborhood Centers partnered with the Harris County’s education department to create what has become the largest ESL program in Pasadena and in Neighborhood Center’s network.

The Neighborhood Opportunity Network in Montgomery County, MD, a suburban county bordering Washington, DC, offers another example of ways in which suburban communities can mobilize to more effectively reach new immigrants. Working with local nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and local funders, the county created the Network in the wake of the Great Recession to make sure low-income residents and new immigrants were aware of and connected to needed services. Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships (OCP) director Bruce Adams observed that this new collaborative effort “has replaced the traditional charity/social services approach to emergency service delivery with a culturally competent capacity building model.”

Amid the growth in suburban poverty and the rise of immigrant gateways in suburbia, we need more of these innovative models to make sure the suburbs are successfully integrating these new Americans into their communities and helping to set them on a path to economic opportunity.

Photo courtesy of John Moore/Getty Images North America

Joining Forces in the Chicago Suburbs to Rebound After the Recession

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By Barbara Ray

Chicago’s southern suburbs have been through hard times ever since the steel mills began closing in the 1980s.  Populations began moving north and west. Businesses departed.  And in recent years, the foreclosure crisis ripped through the remaining neighborhoods.

Chicago BlogAbout one-fourth of the housing stock—or approximately 48,000 units—in South Cook County has been affected by foreclosure since 2005, according to DePaul University’s Institute of Housing Studies database.

Crain’s Chicago Business put it more bluntly: Will the foreclosure crisis kill Chicago?

But amid these challenges the area has adopted innovative, collaborative approaches to stemming the spiral of foreclosures.

In South Cook County, for example, 19 municipalities banded together to create the Chicago Southland Housing and Community Development Collaborative, which now counts 23 jurisdictions among its members.  With support from regional intermediaries like the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the group is leveraging resources and forging new public and private efforts to stabilize housing markets and plan for economic development, and it is drawing on new and innovative tools to help achieve its goals.

The first tool is the new Southland Community Development Fund, which leverages public and private funds for priority transit-oriented development opportunities across jurisdictions.  Robin Snyderman, of Brick Partners, called the Fund’s formation “incredibly promising.”

The second tool is the South Suburban Land Bank.  Spearheaded in 2012 through the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, the land bank is working to stabilize the surrounding communities by buying, holding, and when the time is right, developing vacant properties.  Because land banks can take the form of a quasi-governmental entity, they can more quickly scrub the titles clean of liens and taxes, making them easier to sell and ultimately helping to stem the downward spiral of a community.  Cook County recently created its own land bank to address the growing problem.  The goal, according to planning documents, was to work closely with the South Suburban Land Bank. To that end, the land banks recently succeeded in winning a $6 million award through the national foreclosure settlement with banks.

In addition, Cook County is working with CMAP to launch a new strategic planning process that will help realign a range of federal resources to better support municipal collaborations on housing, transportation planning, economic development, and social services.  This process will lead to a new Consolidated Plan and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the County.

These innovative examples of regional thinking and collaboration are encouraging.  But the process has not been without struggle.  As we document in our case studies, challenges stem largely from the novelty of the organizational structure.  Federal grants and state and city government offices are often not equipped to work with these kinds of collaboratives when issuing grants or other support.

Despite the hurdles, collaborative efforts in Chicago’s Southland and in its western suburbs have managed to make headway. Together the South and West Cook County collaboratives have secured more than $70 million to invest in their sub-regional goals, and other suburbs are seeking to mimic the efforts.

In fact, when asked what distinguished transformative resilience among distressed communities, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke singled out  “the presence of a community leader and collaboration around a vision for the future.” By that standard, Chicago is on the right track.

Suburban Poverty in the News

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The Advocate, Changing demographics bring challenge, opportunity

The geography of poverty in metro New Orleans has shifted dramatically in recent years. In 1999, the region was home to almost a quarter of a million people in poverty, and most of those residents (54 percent) lived in the city of New Orleans. By 2012, the region’s poor population had changed little — 230,000 residents lived below the federal poverty line (e.g., $23,492 for a family of four) — but now more poor residents live outside of Orleans Parish (55 percent) than in it.

Read Elizabeth’s op-ed>>

The Advocate, A Region Redefined Part III: Poverty shifts to suburbs

In Part III of a six-part series on the changing dynamics of the New Orleans region, The Advocate’s Katy Reckdahl examines the shifting geography of the poor.

Read the article>>

Read the other articles in the series>>

Politico, Welcome to Blueburbia

The old dichotomies—red state/blue state, city/suburb—are just too simplistic to capture today’s much more complex picture, which often as not is painted in shades of pink, purple and mauve. Welcome to America’s new map.

Read the article>>

Newburyport Daily News, Our view: Poverty must be addressed as a regional problem

The number of people in poverty on Boston’s North Shore has increased by 20 percent over the last 10 years, according to Margo Casey of the North Shore United Way. Turning the tide will require a regional effort.

Read the opinion piece>>

The Seattle Times, South King County’s Road Map Project is a national anti-poverty model

Berube was in Seattle early Monday to talk about the poverty’s shift beyond urban centers. There are now four times as many people living in poverty in the suburbs compared to a decade ago.

Read the blog post>>

The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore County’s poor need housing, too

Providing housing for low-income families in Baltimore County has less to do these days with making room for “outsiders” than it does with serving those who are already there and looking for a decent place to live.

Read the opinion piece>>

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh suburbs suffering poverty at high rate

Poverty is growing at a faster rate in the suburbs than in the cities, and the Pittsburgh area is ahead of the curve — but not in a good way.

Read the article>>


Related Articles

A sampling of recent publications we have been reading

The Washington Post, Push for minimum wage hike led by localities, Democrats

States and municipalities across the country are leading a localized push to raise the minimum wage, driven largely by Democrats, who see an opening to appeal to working-class Americans at a time of growing inequity.

Read the article>>

The Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project, Mobility and the Metropolis

This report shows that neighborhoods play an important role in determining a family’s prospects of moving up the economic ladder. Metropolitan areas where the wealthy and poor live apart have lower mobility than areas where residents are more economically integrated.

Read the report>> 

Star Tribune, Twin Cities suburbs are working on their curb appeal

Today, a new generation is less sold on the suburbs, development experts say. Many young Americans put more value in walkability, easy access to stores, restaurants, mass transit and other urban amenities. That changing marketplace is forcing Coon Rapids, a city with 341 cul-de-sacs and an aging housing stock heavy on split-levels and ramblers, to reinvent itself.

Read the article>>

Tampa Bay Times, Florida says it wants ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ but it really needs ‘opportunity, opportunity, opportunity’

A huge gulf exists between creating jobs and creating opportunity. And while Florida currently excels at one, it badly trails at the other.

Read the article>>

Student Homelessness is No Longer Just a Big City Problem

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By Sarah Jackson

Fourteen-year-old Drew—who lives with his parents in a Ramada hotel in suburban Denver—is not who most of us think of when we imagine the homeless in America.

Drew, recently profiled at the American Prospect, does his schoolwork on the bed or at one of the dozen tables in the lobby where guests have breakfast in the morning.  His parents cook the family’s meals on a hotplate, and they keep their clothes stacked between the walls and the beds.  He’s lived in hotels for more than a year, since his family lost its home in the mortgage crisis.

Student Homelessness is No Longer Just a Big City Problem, Photo/ Indiana Public Media

Drew still attends middle school in suburban Denver, a region where the number of suburban poor grew by 138 percent between 2000 and 2011, compared with 61 percent growth in the city.  As in Denver, suburbs across the country are now home to more poor residents than central cities.

Increasingly, as poverty spreads to the suburbs, homelessness is spreading too.

But unlike “traditional” homelessness, this is not just single individuals living on the streets. More often than not, the new homeless are families like Drew’s.  These families live in hotels, or have moved in with friends in temporary arrangements that have turned permanent, or live in transitional housing or shelters.  Often they’ve recently lost a job, suffered an illness, or are members of the working poor who couldn’t pay that last big medical bill or property tax increase.

For children like Drew, success in school can be challenging.  Bill Wolfe, who runs the Homeless Children’s Education Fund in Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that homeless children often have trouble “keeping up with schoolwork amid chaos—the entire family living in one bedroom of a relative’s house, or in a different motel every night, or in the family car.”  Research shows homeless students are at an increased risk of falling behind and dropping out.

New research from the National Center for Homeless Education finds a striking 72 percent increase in the number of homeless children in public schools since the beginning of the recession.

Across the country suburban schools and municipalities are struggling to keep up with demand.

“Often, suburbs don’t have the same sorts of infrastructure and supports in place to meet the needs of a growing poor population,” Elizabeth Kneebone, told the Baltimore Sun.  “If you can’t afford a reliable car, it can be difficult to connect to those kinds of opportunities.”

The suburbs of Baltimore County experienced an explosion in the homeless population, with growth of 58 percent between 2000 and 2011 compared to 4 percent in the city during that time.

In suburban Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports, school personnel are struggling to make sure homeless children have what they need for school—“backpacks, school uniforms, gym clothes—even copies of their birth certificates or medical records.”  These are things, educators say, that often get lost when “families are in perpetual transition.”

Advocates gathered in Pittsburgh last month to discuss regional solutions at a forum organized by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. We profiled suburban Penn Hills outside of Pittsburgh in Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. The suburb has a growing low-income population and a lack of access to jobs, transportation, and other needed services.

Peter Miller, who studies how schools and communities are responding to this crisis, spoke at the forum. He said that in the Penn Hills School District, the number of students identified as homeless increased from eight in 2008 to 82 in 2012-13.

Miller’s research finds that city schools are often better prepared to respond to the needs of homeless students than adjacent districts.  Urban districts, for example, often have full-time staff to coordinate transportation, connect families with school and community services, and help with academic screening.  His research also notes that in suburban districts, families often lack access to critical afterschool programs, community services, and other social supports.

Our research suggests that nonprofits and jurisdictions need to collaborate and  work at a sufficiently large scale in order to meet the new challenges posed by the changing geography of poverty and its close cousin, homelessness. These approaches are necessary to reach more communities, overcome fragmentation, and provide a broad enough range of services.

Miller pointed to the Wayne Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) in Michigan, California’s County Offices of Education, Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agencies, and Pennsylvania’s “Intermediate Units,” which coordinate services across districts, as a good start at scale and collaboration.  He also pointed to the need for collaborative data collection to track homeless student outcomes.

Region-wide thinking and collaboration like those Miller mentions are needed to make sure that Drew and kids like him can thrive and get the services they need.

Photo courtesy of Indiana Public Media


Learn about suburban poverty in your community, how innovators around the country are addressing it, and what you can do locally and nationally to take action.