Anti-poverty efforts must move away from a singular focus on inner-cities and go where poverty is growing fastest: the suburbs. People with limited economic means are stereotyped as living in inner-cities, but America’s poor more often than not live and struggle in suburban communities far from the things they need most, including public transportation, health care and jobs.
These points rest atop rigorous research and public policy advocacy by Alan Berube, a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. He is co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Brookings Press, 2013). Berube was in Seattle early Monday to talk about the poverty’s shift beyond urban centers. There are now four times as many people living in poverty in the suburbs compared to a decade ago. Indeed, there are more poor people in suburbs now than in cities. Part of the story is the migration of low-wage jobs, chiefly in hospitality and fast-food restaurants, as well as limited affordable housing in cities like Seattle.
Berube’s talk was sponsored by the Equity kNOW project, a smart partnership between King County and Futurewise to promote more understanding of poverty and general agreement on solutions. I’m encouraged by all of this. King County has the capacity to offer forward-looking mapping and analysis of changing demographics countywide. Anti-poverty efforts need this type of regional leadership, Berube notes. He also credits smart regional cooperatives around the country, giving a nod here to the Road Map Project, a nonprofit organizing South King County communities around improving public education.
Poverty will always exist, just as there will always be unemployment. Efforts to raise incomes should be joined by efforts to ensure everyone, regardless of income, lives in communities helping them not simply survive, but thrive. That means close residential proximity to healthy and fresh foods, public parks, quality schools and reliable bus service. There is a large correlation between people who do not have access to these things and their race, ethnicity and income.
Consider the following in King County:
- The number of people of color has quadrupled over the last 30 years.
- People of color account for more than half of young people under the age of 18.
- Tukwila, Renton and SeaTac are majority minority cities.
- Three ZIP codes – Skyway, SeaTac-Tukwila and Seattle’s Rainier Valley – are the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation.
The YouTube video by the Brookings Institution below offers a vivid snapshot of poverty’s changing face nationwide.