Poverty's Sprawling Tentacles

From 2000-2011 the number of poor Americans living in the suburbs increased at a rate double that of the country's cities. The result is that more poor people now live in the suburbs than in cities. A new book examines this troubling trend.
May 20, 2013, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Although elected officials and service providers "have yet to catch up to this new picture," the suburbanization of poverty "has been no quirk of the recession," says Emily Badger. "It began before the housing market crashed, and will inevitably tax communities unaccustomed to housing the poor well into and beyond the recovery."

A new book by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan BerubeConfronting Suburban Poverty in America, "[paints] a new picture of poverty in America as well as the best ways to combat it."

So, why is the suburbanization of poverty so troubling? Because anti-poverty efforts "designed for dense urban neighborhoods transplant poorly onto suburbia," notes Badger. "We’ve seen that the suburban safety net – it’s much thinner, it’s much patchier, and it’s spread over greater distances," Kneebone says.

In addition, the auto-dependent land use patterns found in America's suburban communities exacerbate poverty. "Many suburbs, for instance, don't have the kinds of public transit networks that can connect impoverished neighborhoods to job opportunities," says Badger.

"All of this means that if the geography of poverty has dramatically changed over the last decade, we'll have to spend the next decade (and likely more) thinking about how to address it in its newest forms," she adds.

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Published on Monday, May 20, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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