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Suburban poverty

Just as the Houston area has seen a population boom in recent years, so has it seen a large increase in poverty, to the point where there are more people in poverty in Houston’s suburbs than in the city.

The number of poor people in Houston’s suburbs doubled between 2000 and 2011, surpassing the number in its urban area, researchers reported Monday.

Suburban poverty in the 10-county Houston metro area grew at almost three times the rate of urban poverty between 2000 and 2011, mirroring a national trend, according to “Confronting Suburban Poverty,” a book by two Brookings Institution researchers.

By 2011, 540,000 poor people lived in Houston’s suburbs, compared to 504,000 in the city, according to the researchers, who applaud the Houston area’s strategies for dealing with the problem.

“Suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, who authored the book with Alan Berube. “Poverty is touching more people and places than before, challenging outdated notions of where poverty is and who it affects.”

Nationwide the number of suburban poor surged by 3 million people – a 64 percent increase over the last decade, the researchers found. The trend clashes with the traditional idea that poverty is concentrated in urban and rural areas.

The rapid growth in suburban poverty is complicating efforts to fight the problem, partly because traditional anti-poverty programs are geared toward urban and rural areas, according to the book.

Suburbs often lack the assistance typically available in urban and many rural areas, researchers say. In addition, narrowly tailored assistance programs often target poverty concentrations rather than the dispersed poverty of the suburbs, making cooperation difficult among nonprofit agencies across regions.

Learn more about the book here. I don’t know if it’s covered in the book or not, but at least in Texas a lot of suburban counties don’t even acknowledge the issue in their localities. The Press had a cover story on homeless youth in Fort Bend a few years ago that made this clear, and we’ve known for a long time how places like Collin County deal with the indigent sick. Fighting the problem where it is now is going to take more than just rethinking traditional strategies and marshaling charitable resources in new places. At some level it’s a political problem as well, and if it isn’t approached as such it’s going to make mitigation a lot more difficult and less efficient than it should be. The Statesman has a similar story about Austin, and there’s a lot of national coverage, too.

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