The number of people living in poverty in US suburbs surpassed the number of poor in cities over the past decade, driven by strong growth in overall suburban populations, according to an analysis released yesterday.

The change is posing a challenge to some traditional US approaches to fighting poverty, which were aimed primarily at poverty in urban settings, the Brookings Institution study found.

The number of poor people living in suburbs rose 64 per cent between 2000 and 2011, reaching 16.4 million, it showed. The number of poor people living in urban areas increased 29 per cent to 13.4 million.

“Despite the fact that ‘poverty in America’ still conjures images of inner-city slums, the suburbanization of poverty has redrawn the contemporary American landscape,” authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube wrote in “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.”

In urban areas, 22 per cent of residents lived below the poverty line in 2011, compared with 12 per cent in suburban areas.

The study cited several reasons for the change, including the shift to the suburbs of poor people seeking affordable housing or pushed out by gentrification.

Housing vouchers and jobs also propelled poor people to the suburbs. More people in suburbs slid into poverty as manufacturing jobs disappeared, the authors said.

Poverty poses distinctive problems in suburban areas, where weak public transportation systems can limit access to jobs for residents without cars, the study found.

Social services are patchier and less developed in suburbs than in urban areas. Suburban schools are strained by trying to meet the needs of the fast-growing number of low-income students, the study said.

Many US anti-poverty programs are based on the 1960s “War on Poverty,” which focused on poor urban neighborhoods. The federal government spends US$82 billion (RM246 billion) a year on more than 80 programs, with most centered on improving the physical and economic environment in poor urban areas, the study said.

“None of these types of programs was built with suburbs in mind,” the study found. “Poverty in suburbs tends to spread over larger areas that are a poor fit for neighborhood improvement programs, which often fail to encourage collaboration among fragmented suburban jurisdictions.”



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