As Americans flee the cities for the suburbs, many can't leave poverty behind.
The suburban poor outnumbered their inner-city counterparts for the first time last year, with more than 12-million suburban residents living in poverty, according to a study of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas released Thursday.
"Economies are regional now," said Alan Berube, who co-wrote the report for the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "Where you see increases in city poverty, in almost every metropolitan area, you also see increases in suburban poverty."
Nationally, the poverty rate leveled off last year at 12.6 percent after increasing every year since the decade began.
"Looking back at the 1970s, you would have seen cities suffering and suburbs staying the same," said Berube, research director at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. "But the story is different today."
Berube said several factors are contributing to an increase in suburban poverty:
- Suburbs are adding people much faster than cities, making it inevitable the number of poor living in suburbs would eventually surpass those living in cities.
- The poverty rate in large cities (18.8 percent) is still higher than it is in the suburbs (9.4 percent). But the number of people living in poverty is higher in the suburbs because of population growth.
Berube and research analyst Elizabeth Kneebone studied poverty figures for the 100 largest metropolitan areas, measuring changes from 1999 to 2005.
In 1999, the number of poor people living in cities and suburbs was roughly even, at about 10.3-million apiece, according to the report. Last year, the suburban poor outnumbered their urban counterparts by about 1.2-million.
The federal government defined the poverty level as $15,577 for a family of three in 2005.