U.S. suburban poverty growing, but trend mixed in Miami-Dade, Broward



Across the country, the poverty rate is surging in the suburbs, where the number of poor people is growing much faster than in central cities — a largely unrecognized reversal that calls for a retooling of federal anti-poverty, economic development and transit funding, the Brookings Institution has found.

In a book released Monday, researchers at the non-partisan think tank’s Metropolitan Policy Program say the poor population in U.S. suburbs increased 64 percent between 2000 and 2010, or more than twice the rate of the increase in the urban poor population. More poor people now live in suburbs than in big cities or rural areas, the book says.

That dramatic trend is evident in only some pockets of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. But that’s not good news, since poverty rates in numerous towns and cities across the region already significantly exceed the U.S. poverty rate of 15 percent.

The study looked at two measures: the increase in population below the federal poverty line, and the poverty rate, which is the percentage of overall population that is poor.

Unincorporated Miami-Dade, home to some 1.2 million people, saw no significant increase in poverty, figures from the study show. A handful of towns and cities, including Miami Lakes and Hialeah, saw relatively small numerical increases in the number of poor residents. So did the city of Miami, where the poverty rate remains at a staggering 28.6 percent in spite of extensive gentrification in and around downtown.

But some suburban pockets in Broward that were hard hit by the recent recession and real estate collapse, including Miramar and Cooper City, saw their poor populations nearly double, to nearly 11,000 and 1,600 people, respectively.

Even some places regarded as affluent enclaves experienced the trend: Aventura’s poor population grew 76 percent to just over 4,000 people, figures released by Brookings show.

For suburban municipalities unaccustomed to dealing with poor people, that kind of increase can create social problems and put a strain on resources, said Elizabeth Kneebone, principal author of the Brookings book, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.

“For some of these places to have the poor population more than double, that’s a very rapid increase,’’ Kneebone said.

The study attributes the increase to several factors: “Shifts in jobs and wages, population growth and immigration, the collapse of the housing market and the foreclosure crisis.’’

For instance, some low-income people have left central cities to follow the expansion of low-paying retail and hospitality jobs in the suburbs. But the great recession hit many of them especially hard, as many lost employment, leaving them largely without a public safety net. Because of the lack of transit in suburbs, many poor residents who lack a car can find it hard to find or get to work.

Immigration is a relatively small factor in the increase, representing just 17 percent of the increase in suburban poverty, the study concluded.

Because anti-poverty funding is now concentrated in central cities, the Brookings authors conclude that federal officials must consider redistributing some of that money to suburbs newly impacted by poverty.

Kneebone and co-author Alan Berube propose redirecting to the suburbs around $4 billion of the $82 billion that the federal government now spends annually on anti-poverty programs for housing, education, transportation and jobs.

“When people think of poverty in America, they tend to think of inner city neighborhoods or isolated rural communities,’’ Kneebone said in a statement released by Brookings. “Poverty is touching more people and places than before, challenging outdated notions of where poverty is and who it affects.’’

The report is based on an analysis of figures from the 2000 Census and the American Community Survey, which aggregates statistics from 2008, 2009 and 2010. Federal guidelines define a family of four as poor if their household income is below $23,550.

The Brookings analysis found the highest suburban poverty jump in a Florida metro area, Cape Coral on the Gulf Coast, another area pummeled by the housing crisis. The poverty rate there jumped 8 percentage points to 18.6 percent.

The highest suburban poverty rates were reported in two Texas metro areas, El Paso at 36.4 percent, and McAllen at 35.4 percent.

Across the three-county South Florida region, the Brookings book says, the population of the poor rose during the 2000s from 565,451 to 833,189. The overall poverty rate did not change significantly because high population growth meant the number of poor simply kept pace with the broader increase in residents. But that left the poverty rates at a still-high 28.7 percent in the principal cities, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and at 16.6 percent across all suburban areas.

But the reason Miami-Dade and Broward did not see the same kind of overall surge in poverty that Brookings documented in other metro areas across the country is likely because poverty in the region was already high, said Alayne Unterberger, associate research director at Florida International University’s Research Institute for Labor Research and Studies.

“That’s because we started lower in terms of income,’’ Unterberger said. “Florida has always had high poverty. We have no manufacturing base. The job quality and the income is not there for a lot of Floridians to maintain a middle-class life.’’

In Miami-Dade, suburbs as disparate as Sunny Isles Beach, Cutler Bay and Doral saw double-digit percentage increases in poor population, figures released by Brookings show. Economically hard-hit Homestead saw a 76.4 increase in poverty even as it expanded dramatically after annexing surrounding areas for development. The poverty rate in the city of Miami remained unchanged, by contrast.

In Broward, Davie, Hallandale and Plantation saw their poor populations rise 41.2, 29 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively.

Those large jumps are probably explained by the fact that Broward had sharp income inequalities even before the recession disproportionately affected those at the bottom of the income ladder, Unterberger said.

The FIU institute has documented sharply rising income inequality across the region, which has been accentuated by the recession and the lagging recovery, she said.

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