Suburbia is the new face of poverty

Data show most poor outside cities

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With most of Americans now living in suburbs, it should be no surprise that poverty has become more of a suburban problem than an urban one.

Researchers from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., found that 56 percent of the poor people in the 100 largest metropolitan areas of the country live in the suburbs.

Those in this region are even less concentrated. In the seven counties of the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area -- which covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties -- 77 percent, or 248,000, of those living in poverty are outside the Pittsburgh city limits.

Researchers used federal poverty guidelines, which set the line at $18,530 for a family of three and $22,350 for a family of four in 2010.

In the Pittsburgh region, there are pockets of poverty, such as McKeesport where nearly a quarter of the population is below the line, a percentage that has held steady for about a decade.

But poverty has been increasing in the suburbs closer to the city. Penn Hills, for instance, had a rate of 7.5 percent in 2000. That grew to 11 percent in 2010.

In Ross, the 2000 poverty rate was 4.2 percent. By 2010, 8.3 percent of the population was in poverty. Moon saw a similar increase from 4.2 percent in 2000 to 9.2 percent in 2010.

As jobs move out of cities and into the suburbs, many poor people still struggle to get to work. Companies are locating in outer-ring suburbs, which may not be connected to public transit with routes that connect suburbs to the center city.

"Our transit systems are not designed to get you from suburb to suburb, they are designed to get you Downtown," said Alan Berube, one of the authors of the report.

While 80.1 percent of the residents of Pittsburgh's lower-income suburbs had access to some sort of transit, just 16.9 percent of the region's jobs could be accessed within 90 minutes by transit.

The Brookings researchers' findings are in a book called, "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America," which is being released today.

In the Pittsburgh area, between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of people living in poverty in the city grew by 6.3 percent while the percentage in the suburbs rose by 15.7 percent.

Pittsburgh suburbs had an 11.1 percent poverty rate in 2011. The city had a poverty rate of 23.8 percent.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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