Report: Suburban Poverty Rises Sharply But CT Regions More Stable

by Categorized: Poverty Date:

Metro Hartford’s suburbs have among the lowest poverty rates among the largest 100 U.S. urban areas and the region is in the middle of the pack in growth of suburban poverty, a new report shows.

But the region, which includes Hartford, Middlesex and Tolland counties, had the second-fasted gain in suburban poverty of any metro in the northeast from 2000 to 2011, according to the report released Monday by the Brookings Institution. The release included a new book, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, and a web site designed to spur awareness and action, www.confrontingsuburbanpoverty.org.

Metro Hartford had a suburban poverty rate of 8.6 percent in 2011, compared with a national average of 12.1 percent. The top five were all small metro regions in Texas and California, which are poor areas in general.

Nationwide, 55 percent of all people living in poverty are in suburbs, not core cities. That’s up from 47 percent in 1970, and includes 16.4 million people.

Metro Hartford’s suburban poor, 90,198 people in 2011, account for 68 percent of the region’s total because, of course, the city of Hartford is small compared with the region.

The growth rate of poverty in the Hartford suburbs was 62 percent, ranking it No. 48 among 95 of the top 100 metros. (Data was not available for five small metros.)  Only Rochester, at 75 percent, was higher among northeast metros, and the national average was 64 percent.

New Haven was at 52 percent growth, with a suburban poverty rate of 10.3 percent, and Bridgeport-Stamford was among the lowest growth rates in the nation, at 39 percent, with the lowest of all suburban poverty rates in 2011, 5.5 percent.

Springfield had the second-lowest growth rate in the last decade, at 18 percent, but it still had one of the region’s highest rates, at 11.6 percent.

The issue of suburban poverty brings together a dizzying mass of ideas and social changes.  For example, we can’t tell from the numbers whether poverty is concentrated in the suburbs of a given metro, or spread out. New Britain, which is a city, is counted as a suburb in the Brookings report, skewing the data.

Where is the suburban poverty in Metro Hartford? The report doesn’t get that granular, but I looked at Census figures, which show that two-thirds of suburban poverty is in nine municipalities. New Britain is by far the largest with more than 14,000 people under the poverty line. The others, in order:

East Hartford

Middletown

Bristol

Manchester

West Hartford

Enfield

Mansfield

Vernon

The problem with poverty is being poor, of course, and the location doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse but the authors of the book and Washington, D.C.-based Brookings, make the case that services for the poor are focused in cities and are absent from some suburbs that are seeing a rise in poverty. So, while not as concentrated as the problems that led to the War on Poverty nearly a half-century ago, today’s poverty is in some ways harder to attack, and harder for the people living in it because they may be isolated.

 

“All the basic supports that helped us survive, that in many cases are legacy assets of urban societies, are blank,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, which supports suburban poverty programs. “People are living no better off but without a safety net.”

Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author of the book, pointed out that there are programs that work in places like Seattle, Houston and Chicago, but they require regional cooperation. That’s not a strong suit in Connecticut.

The rise in the last decade is certainly not just a matter of hard times, the authors said. And it’s not just a matter of poverty spreading out from the cities to the suburbs. If that were true, urban poverty would be further down, and growth of suburban poverty would be worse than it is in the northeast — because cities such as Boston, Hartford, Providence and Springfield are smaller in area than typical cities across the country.

The fact that the rise of suburban poverty is multifaceted and complex is highlighted by the list of metro areas with the fastest rise in the last decade — a very diverse group with different reasons for the rise:

Metro Area 2000 (Suburban Poor) 2011 % Change
Atlanta         301,294          780,078 159%
Austin, TX           42,578          103,248 143%
Salt Lake City, UT           47,633          115,109 142%
Las Vegas           89,802          214,883 139%
Denver           68,611          163,434 138%
Phoenix         117,445          275,085 134%
Boise City, ID           27,191            62,459 130%
Provo, UT           17,403            39,784 129%
Minneapolis-St. Paul           89,895          204,901 128%
Detroit         211,377          453,784 115%

 

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