Baltimore’s Suburbs: The New Face of Poverty in America

Is poverty just an “urban” problem? Not in Baltimore and not in the Nation.

Poverty has long been associated with the inner city. However, a new book from the Brookings Institution, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube,  shows that poverty in the nation’s suburbs is  greater than that in our cities.

According to the book, the number of poor residents (i.e. those living under the federal poverty level, as defined by the US Census Bureau) in the suburbs have been growing faster than those in the city for several decades. By 2011, the American suburban poor population was actually greater than the urban one, with just over 16 million in the suburbs to around 13 million in the cities, though the cities still maintain a higher density of poverty.

According to Kneebone and Berube, there are many causes of this new suburban poverty, e.g. lower-wage jobs being moved out of expensive cities and the dream of better schools and lower crime in suburban areas. In Baltimore, the harsh reality of this new poverty has already taken form. Between 2000 and 2011, the Baltimore suburban poor population rose 58.3% in comparison to 4.2% in the city, according to the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Richmond, in comparison, saw a rise in the suburban poor population of 69.8%, while Milwaukee’s grew by  90.8%.

This changing geography of poverty  poses new challenges to government efforts in curbing poverty. According to the newly released book’s website,the Federal government spends about $82 billion a year  to help fight poverty. Yet most of these programs focus on one neighborhood at  a time and poverty in cities alone, making them inadequate for a growing suburban poor population.

To solve this, Kneebone and Berube propose increased collaboration within government projects to allow them to operate in more than just one jurisdiction at a time. Here in Baltimore, a recent Baltimore Sun article suggests Baltimore City collaborates with neighboring counties like Howard County to work together against the increasing spread of poverty. 

Solutions to alleviate problems associated with regional poverty  already exist. Work like the Opportunity Collaborative, a inter-jurisdictional planning collaboration, thinks beyond political boundaries in many dimensions related to poverty. Striving for a regional model of sustainable development through fair housing, transportation, and workforce development, this alliance includes government, non-profit (including CPHA), and even academic institutions in its work. At a time when organizations need to work together to curb what is now a regional epidemic, the Opportunity Collaborative provides an opportunity for planning co-operation beyond city and suburban lines to meet the new face of poverty in America.

To find out more or to get involved with the Opportunity Collaborative, click here.

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Faith Tandoc

Faith Tandoc

This article was written by Faith Tandoc and edited by Michael Snidal. Click here to meet our writing team.
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