Suburbs Take Hit As US Poverty Climbs In Downturn

WASHINGTON (AP/WBBM) – Battered by the downturn, America’s suburbs are bearing the brunt of poverty among those of working age that has climbed to its highest level in almost a half century, creating strains on dwindling safety-net programs focusing mostly on the inner-city poor.

Some of the numbers from the Chicago area are shocking.

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 A pair of analyses by the nonprofit Brookings Institution paint a bleak economic picture for the 100 largest metropolitan areas over the past decade and in the coming years, when the U.S. poverty rate is projected to edge toward 15 percent.

Several suburban counties outside of Chicago experienced more than 40 percent increases of poor residents from 2000 to 2008, according to the Brookings Institution report “Strained Suburbs: The Social Service Challenges of Rising Suburban Poverty”.

The numbers get even more shocking. The report finds the number of poor in Romeoville went up more than 500 percent during that period. In Plainfield, it was a 200 percent increase; in McHenry, 172 percent; and in St. Charles,  112 percent.

The number of poor in the city of Chicago dropped 0.9 percent, according to the report. In Evanston, the number of poor dropped more than 17 percent.

READ: Brookings Institution Complete Suburban Chicago Factsheet CLICK HERE

Selected data from the Brookings Report:

Location : Poverty Rate 2000 / 2006-2008

Cook County : 13.5% / 14.8%
Chicago: 19.6%  / 20.7%
Cicero: 15.5% / 17.3%

DuPage County:  3.6% / 5.0%
Naperville:  2.2% / 3.4%
Elmhurst: 2.5% / 4.0%

Kane County:  6.7% /  8.4%
Elgin: 8.1% 10.9%
St. Charles:  3.4% 6.0%

Lake County:  5.7% / 4%
Wheeling: 5.3% / 9.3%
Waukegan:  13.9% / 12.5%

McHenry County:  3.7% / 5.6%
Crystal Lake:  3.5% 5.1%
McHenry:  4.6% / 10.3%

Will County:  4.9% / 6.0%
Joliet:  10.8% / 10.8%
Romeoville:  1.9% / 6.3%
Park Forest:  6.7% / 12.1%

The analysys come weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections in which voters anxious over the slumping economy will decide whether to keep Democrats in power. Made up of both cities and surrounding suburbs, the large metro areas represent two-thirds of the U.S. population and are home to key battlegrounds that helped lift Democrat Barack Obama to victory in 2008.

The analyses of census data released Thursday show that since 2000, the number of poor people in the suburbs jumped by 37.4 percent to 13.7 million. That’s faster than the national growth rate of 26.5 percent and more than double the city rate of 16.7 percent.

After the recession began in 2007, the suburbs continued to post larger increases in the number of poor – adding 1.8 million, compared to 1.4 million in the cities. Suburbs are now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s poor.

At the same time, social service providers are spread thin in many suburban areas, according to a detailed Brookings survey of groups in representative metropolitan areas of Chicago, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. That has forced providers to turn away many poor people due to increasingly scarce government and private-sector aid that is typically given to cities first.

“Millions of Americans at all income levels moved to the suburbs looking for better schools, better jobs, affordable housing, and a sense of security, but in recent years, as incomes have fallen, people had a harder and harder time making ends meet,” said Scott Allard, a University of Chicago professor who co-wrote one of the reports.

“As a result, Americans who never imagined becoming poor are now asking for assistance, and many are not getting the help they need,” he said.

Cities still have higher poverty rates – about 19.5 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in the suburbs. But the gap has been steadily narrowing. In a reversal from 2000, the number of poor people living in the suburbs now exceeds those in cities by roughly 1.6 million.

Analysts attribute the shift largely to years of middle-class flight and substantial shares of minorities and immigrants leaving cities in the early part of the decade for affordable housing and job opportunities in the suburbs. After the housing bust, their fortunes changed, throwing millions of people out of work.

More than half, or 57, of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas had substantial increases in poverty. They were most evident in Sun Belt suburban areas including Modesto and Riverside, both in California, as well as Lakeland, Fla.; Orlando; Miami and Tampa, which had seen large population gains during the housing boom.

Also hit hard were Rust Belt manufacturing regions such as Detroit, Cleveland and Allentown, Pa., where the poverty rate soared from 19 percent to 29 percent.

Nationally, the government reported last month that 14.3 percent of people in the U.S., or 1 in 7, now live below the poverty line, which is $21,954 for a family of four. Among the working-age population, poverty is at 12.9 percent, the highest since the 1960s, when the government launched a national war on poverty.

Based on unemployment rates that remain near 10 percent, many analysts predict increases in the U.S. poverty rate for at least two more years, with the suburbs continuing to post large gains.

Additional findings:

-Poor people’s requests to nonprofit groups for help buying food, paying bills and making housing payments generally jumped 30 percent between 2008 and 2009. About 3 out of 4 nonprofit groups reported increases in requests from people who had never sought help before.

-Almost half of the nonprofit groups serving the suburban poor reported they had lost substantial government or private-sector aid in the last year. Many of them were expecting additional cuts in 2011.

-Suburban nonprofit groups were often spread across multiple counties, cities or townships. That made it difficult to coordinate services across sprawling areas or obtain funding, compared to cities where poverty was more concentrated.

-Private philanthropic support for nonprofit social service groups more often targeted the poor in cities rather than suburbs, due partly to a belief that cities had the most poor and needed more help.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, said the numbers highlighted a need for local governments to develop regional approaches to tackling poverty that encompass both city and suburb.

While suburban poverty is a growing problem, Kneebone noted that city poverty also rose significantly in the last year as the downturn began to spread from construction and manufacturing to other sectors of the economy. She said future poverty increases will be partly determined by the pace of economic recovery as well as government policy decisions promoting job growth, affordable housing and transportation.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. WBBM contributed to this report.



  • Cyn

    Unfortunately, we will see the repercussions of Bush’s complete incompetence & mismanagement for years to come. It actually quite amazing how he could plunge the country into such disorder with such disregard for the working class
    & still have people defend him. Hopfully, we will give Obama the time he needs to pull us out of the quagmire.

    • Steve

      You clearly haven’t looked at the numbers yourself.

      Even with the wars, the deficit under Bush is nothing like Obama’s deficit. Was Bush a spender — yes, shame on him. Obama’s shovel-ready jobs bill at nearly a trillion hasn’t budged the unemployment rate.

      Obama is going to be a disaster if this spending continues. Let’s not forget too — Obama likes wireless taps, spending, and much of what Bush did (like keeping Guantanamo open).

  • Spesial Forces

    Cyn and tired of this, You are 2 narrowminded askholes who are part of it.

  • Cyn

    @Special Forces
    Webster defines narrow minded thusly-“lacking in tolerance & breadth of vision”.
    You have a wealth of information at your fingertips with your PC. Please take advantage of it & research the statistics on the deficit (surplus to unprecedented debt) lending laws, oil prices, global view, climate change etc.
    for those eight years & you may be quite surprised & enlightened. And I am Not
    a part of this-I did not vote for the man who caused it! Have a great day!

  • getyourfactsstraight


    Don’t worry! Obama and his party are making sure it gets worse!


    This is America’s dirty little secret…poverty is on the rise and its face looks just like yours!!! Who would have thunk it?!! Thanks Ronnie Reagan, George W. and George H.W. Bush and chronies, you screwed us again (YOU PATRIOTIC REPUBLICANS!!!) and this time you had the balls to give us- the working poor and poor -the check…what a swell bunch of guys.

    Please don’t forget to tip your driver/chauffer as you exit the vehicle, as he has to send a care package to his kid fighting in Afghanistan for your right to NOT PAY TAXES!!!! We’re sure glad we were lead hook, line and sinker by you swell fellows to the unemployment line with your trade deals and non protection for us who lost the jobs, that payed the taxes that you shipped overseas so you could lower your tax rate on all the layoffs you made to “…increase productivity and more importantly, PROFITS…”

    I’m happy to call you fellow citizen…hey by the way, Can you spare a dollar my friend? I have to go the store and buy my daughter a loaf of bread. Thanks!!!

  • outofillinois

    Welcome to the brave new world of DemObama Economics! Trickle up poverty will continue as long as the liberal clowns in DC keep expanding government.

  • JWoww

    Um I know who to thank – sp1cs and n1gs. These people flood the suburbs and turn them into wastelands bc they feel they chillens deserve to attend top notch schools financed by upper middle class tax dollars despite not paying any tax. Entire apt complexes are full of illegal mexicans in places like downers grove- let’s call it what it is – disgusting.

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