New Census Data Show Few Metro Areas Made Progress Against Poverty in 2013

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According to an analysis of 2013 American Community Survey, four years into an economic recovery, most major metro areas had yet to make progress toward reducing poverty to pre-recession levels. Where gains did occur, they tended to happen in big cities, further accelerating a long-term trend in the suburbanization of U.S. poverty and the challenges that accompany it.

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Homelessness among Students Is Up Sharply in the Suburbs

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Barbara Ray

In 2010, Penny Scrivner, a retired Greyhound bus driver, had a new job. Every morning, she swung by motels, abandoned cars, and street corners to pick up homeless children for school.

“I’ve picked up kids waiting on street corners,” she told the Oregonian in 2010. “They don’t have an address. I just know they’ll be standing there waiting.”

That morning she pulled over to an apartment building, where a family was living temporarily, to pick up a group of siblings.

“Penny,” one of the girls asks after the door shuts, “can I have a hug?”

“Oh, honey,” Scrivner says, “yes you can.” Read More

Ferguson, Mo. Emblematic of Growing Suburban Poverty

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Metro blog, The Avenue

Elizabeth Kneebone

Nearly a week after the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., protests continue in the 21,000-person suburban community on St. Louis’ north side and around the nation.

Amid the social media and news coverage of the community’s response to the police shooting of the unarmed teenager, a picture of Ferguson and its history has emerged.

The New York Times and others have described the deep-seated racial tensions and inequalities that have long plagued the St. Louis region, as well as the dramatic demographic transformation of Ferguson from a largely white suburban enclave (it was 85 percent white as recently as 1980) to a predominantly black community (it was 67 percent black by 2008-2012). Read More

Concentrated Poverty in the News

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Here is a roundup of some of the national and regional coverage Elizabeth’s brief The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-12 has received since its release two weeks ago.

The Washington Post, Poverty consolidated and spread to the suburbs during the 2000s, report finds

GovBeat’s Niraj Chokshi discusses the growth of poor suburban neighborhoods, their shifting geography and demographics, and the growth in share of suburban poor living in very poor neighborhoods.

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Mayors Take Aim at Inequality, but is That the Right Target?

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Metro Blog, The Avenue

Alan Berube

Monday, a special U.S. Conference of Mayors task force released a report documenting growing income disparities in U.S. metro areas. The Cities of Opportunity Task Force is chaired by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, two of the most prominent mayors elected last fall on platforms to reduce inequities within their cities.

The analysis and the mayors’ response to it highlight the difficult situation these leaders face.

The statistics in the report, authored by IHS Global Insight, demonstrate that in most places, inequality is increasing. In about two-thirds of metro areas, average incomes grew faster (or shrank more slowly) than median incomes from 2005 to 2012, suggesting that more income has become concentrated among richer households. Read More

Regional Coordination among Governments Can Combat Suburban Poverty

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Barbara Ray

When I was a kid growing up in a small town, the phone in my sister’s house would ring with a different tone to alert my brother-in-law to a fire. When the phone rang, he’d drop everything and run the three blocks to the firehouse and join a dozen or so other volunteers to put out the fire. Our town was too small to warrant a full-time fire department—or many other services for that matter. (We were, however, bigger than the nearby town of Bolan, Iowa, pop. 33—and 16 in 1989 when the entire town joined David Letterman on stage.)

Governance in towns such as Bolan or Glen Echo Park (pop. 160; 37 families) outside St. Louis, a region Elizabeth recently visited, is often a straightforward affair—until, that is, help is needed or disaster strikes.

At a recent meeting in St. Louis County, Elizabeth was discussing the importance of smart governance in combatting growing suburban poverty when a Glen Echo Park elected official raised her hand. Glen Echo Park, she said, has two streets and no retail or businesses, and about one-fourth of the homes are vacant. They needed better housing code enforcement, but where were they to turn? Glen Echo Park is just one of more than 90 municipalities in St. Louis County, which itself is just one county in the St. Louis metro area. Read More

Does Inequality Matter for Mobility? A Metro View

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Social Mobility Memos blog

Alan Berube

Standard and Poor’s issued a new report this week arguing that high levels of inequality may be retarding U.S. economic growth, moving debates around the effects of inequality further into the mainstream.

The Unresolved Debate about Mobility and Inequality

One particularly contentious axis of the debate about inequality has focused on whether there’s any connection between income inequality and intergenerational mobility. Former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers Alan Krueger popularized the Great Gatsby curve, based on research from Miles Corak at the University of Ottawa, which portrays that countries exhibiting higher levels of inequality also experience lower levels of mobility across generations. Read More

Job Growth, Without Smart Planning, Can Still Leave Many Behind

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Barbara Ray and Sarah Jackson

In 2011, the suburbs of Cleveland were profiled in a New York Times story about growing suburban poverty in the United States. The story documented places such as Parma Heights and Warrensville Heights, once known for their “good schools, manicured lawns and middle-class neighbors.” Those neighborhoods today are grappling with something new, growing poverty.

In 2000, 46 percent of the metro area’s poor were suburban residents. By 2012, 56 percent were. As the Times documents, once middle-class communities now have long lines at local food banks, and municipal governments struggle to help poor residents on tight, post-recession budgets.

It was only in 2011 that the Northeast Ohio region saw its first full year of job growth since the Great Recession. The region, with a population of more than 4 million, encompasses four metro areas (Akron, Canton, Cleveland, and Youngstown) and includes nearly $200 billion in economic activity. The area was lauded by Brookings’ Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley in their book “The Metropolitan Revolution” for its work to bring jobs in high tech and advanced manufacturing to the area through a partnership between the region’s Fund for Our Economic Future, MAGNET, and the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation.
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Poverty and Disadvantage Continue to Concentrate in the Suburbs

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Barbara Ray

It’s easy to conjure up images of concentrated poverty in the inner city.

As Alex Kotlowitz described it in his 1991 book There Are No Children Here: “There were no banks, only currency exchanges, which charged customers up to $8000 for every welfare check cashed. There were no public libraries, movie theaters, skating rinks, or bowling alleys to entertain the neighborhood’s children. For the infirm, there were two neighborhood clinics . . .  both of which teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and would close by the end of 1989. Yet the death rate of newborn babies exceeded infant mortality rates in a number of third world countries, including Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba and Turkey. And there was no rehabilitation center, though drug use was rampant.”

But in the suburbs?
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Research Brief: The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-12

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While poverty increased and spread in the 2000s, it also became more concentrated in high-poverty and economically distressed neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods were increasingly located in the suburbs. By 2008-2012, the suburbs accounted for 40 percent of residents living in such areas in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. Elizabeth explains why this increased concentration of poverty in suburban communities can pose greater challenges.

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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.