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.