POVERTY

An Emerging Concentration of Poverty in U.S. Suburbs

The words poverty in America have traditionally conjured up images of inner-city slums and isolated rural communities. Jacob Riis and Dorothea Lange were not strolling down suburban streets taking photos of the hardships of suburban life.  But the poor population in suburbs has ballooned during the past two decades to rival that of big cities and rural communities.

The landscape of poverty in the United States is shifting faster than our collective perception.  Recessions and slow economic recovery have taken a toll on the middle class and poverty in the U.S. and here in New Jersey has redistributed itself into a less recognizable scenario.

In 2014, the national poverty rate was 14.8 percent, with 46.7 million people in poverty. The family poverty rate that same year was 11.6 percent and the number of families in poverty was 9.5 million.

According to Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution, the suburban poor population increased in 93 of the top 95 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas between 2000 and 2012. In 59 of the same 95 metro areas, the majority of the poor were concentrated in the suburbs by 2012, according to Kneebone.

The Kids Count report by the Association for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) is an annual snapshot of the well-being of New Jersey children.  The report, released in 1996, indicated social troubles once perceived as “urban problems” were flowing into the suburbs.  In the first half of the nineties, the largest jump statistically in child abuse, poverty, juvenile crime and infant mortality, occurred in the suburbs, according to the report.

The report looks at 13 social problem categories such as food stamps and welfare, teen deaths, child abuse and juvenile crime, low birth weight, and infant mortality rates and compares the incidence of these problems to previous years.

From 1990 to 1995, Burlington, Cape May, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Somerset and Sussex, showed increases of more than 20 percent in at least four of the factors, with Bergen County showing a whopping 116 percent jump in the number of juveniles who were sent to institutions for committing crimes and a 44 percent increase in child deaths. Link

Burlington County also had significant rise of 33 percent in juvenile arrests and a 58 percent rise in parental problems which could lead to child abuse or neglect.

Ciro Scalera, executive director of the ACNJ, said that while the report still revealed many more children living in poverty and besieged by severe social problems in New Jersey’s cities, the percentages had indeed risen in its suburbs.

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