Poverty's Not Just for Cities: America's 10 Poorest Suburbs

Porest SuburbsWhile high poverty in some urban areas comes as no surprise, the growing poverty rates in a few suburban areas have been more unexpected. In an attempt to better understand this trend, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest rates of poverty in their suburbs, as ranked by the Brookings Institute.

The trend toward suburban poverty has been under way for nearly a decade. And in some metropolitan areas, the poverty rates in the suburbs are higher than in the cities they surround.

"Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country's largest metro areas had their poor populations grow by 25% -- almost five times faster than the cities themselves...", the Brookings Institute recently reported. Additionally, "large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200% of poverty." That means they earn less than twice the poverty level, or less than $44,700 annually for a family of four, according to the 2011 guidelines.

With this in mind, 24/7 Wall St. looked at the 10 metropolitan areas with the largest rates of poverty in their suburbs, ranked by the Brookings Institute. We then compared the suburban poverty rate with that of the metropolitan areas' primary cities and analyzed the situations that created this poverty.

The poverty threshold in 2008, the last year used in Brookings' study, was $21,384 for a family of four. That means consumer spending is probably moribund in the suburbs covered in this analysis. Most of these regions have also been hit by the housing blight. Falling home prices and houses with values below their mortgages mean that income improvement will be constrained.

In other words, many residents in these areas are trapped both economically and physically. The combination of those factors leaves these suburbs in a situation where a recovery is nearly impossible.



This is the 24/7 Wall St.'s Poorest Suburbs In America:

10. Albuquerque, N.M.
> Suburban poverty rate: 13.6%
> City poverty rate: 15%
> Number of suburban poor: 43,449

Although Albuquerque has a number industries that have remained economically healthy throughout the past decade, it has high rates of both city and suburban poverty. Albuquerque has faced difficult times, in the last few years, compared to the rest of New Mexico. From 2009 to 2010, the metropolitan area's unemployment rate increased from 7.6% to 8.6%. The emergence of a number of green-technology manufacturers in the area has improved conditions somewhat. Meanwhile, the state's housing market remains one of the worst in the nation.

9. Augusta-Richmond County, Ga.
> Suburban poverty rate: 14.0%
> City poverty rate: 24.1%
> Number of suburban poor: 46,202

Augusta-Richmond County is the second largest metropolitan area in Georgia, behind Atlanta. The city and surrounding area lost many jobs during the recession. Some of these losses were the result of budget tightening in the public sector. Georgia Health Sciences University has laid off hundreds of employees. The city has also privatized a number of public services, such as its bus service and its municipal golf course, also resulting in a drop in public-sector jobs.

8. Jackson, Miss.
> Suburban poverty rate: 14.0%
> City poverty rate: 26.9%
> Number of suburban poor: 49,016

The Jackson metropolitan area is centered around the capital city of Mississippi. As of 2008, the area's suburbs had slightly fewer than 50,000 residents living below the poverty line. That's up from fewer than 40,000 impoverished people in 2000. Poverty is a major issue throughout Mississippi, and the poverty rate is even higher in the city than it is in the suburbs. According to local news source WLBT, one in every four to five Mississippi residents live in poverty.

7. Little Rock, Ark.
> Suburban poverty rate: 14.2%
> City poverty rate: 18.6%
> Number of suburban poor: 68,291

Although the unemployment rate for Little Rock is significantly lower than the national average -- 7.5% compared to 9.3% -- the city's suburbs have an above-average percentage of people living below the poverty line. The poverty rate in Little Rock's suburbs has increased 3.1 percentage points in the last decade. According to nonprofit organization Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the number of male workers settling for part-time instead of full-time work has doubled since 1995. Additionally, "the demand for public benefits such as unemployment, food and child care assistance has skyrocketed," the organization reports.

6. Modesto, Calif.
> Suburban poverty rate: 14.6%
> City poverty rate: 13.5%
> Number of suburban poor: 43,645

Modesto is the first metropolitan area on this list where the suburban poverty rate is higher than that of the city. This is largely due to the area being one of the worst hit by the housing bubble. Stanislaus County, which is included in the Modesto metropolitan area, continues to have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. In July 2011, one in every 140 housing units in the county received a foreclosure filing, according to RealtyTrac. For comparison, the California foreclosure rate was 1 in every 239, while the national rate was 1 in every 611.

5. Lakeland, Fla.
> Suburban poverty rate: 15.8%
> City poverty rate: 13.3%
> Number of suburban poor: 75,075

From 2000 to 2008, the poverty rate among the Lakeland metropolitan area's suburbs increased 3.2 percentage points. The city poverty rate decreased by 1.7 points. The number of impoverished people in the suburbs, which consist primarily of Polk County, grew from fewer than 50,000 people to more than 75,000. According to an April 2011 article in a local newspaper, The Ledger, community leaders claim that, "Polk is on the verge of an economic boom that will lift wages and create more jobs." As of June, however, unemployment in Polk County was at 11.7%.

4. Fresno, Calif.
> Suburban poverty rate: 18.8%
> City poverty rate: 25.5%
> Number of suburban poor: 79,359

Fresno's economy relies primarily on agriculture. Unfortunately, field workers receive very little pay. They perform a low-wage job, and seasonal positions are largely filled by immigrants. In addition to this, Fresno was another metropolitan area that was hit exceptionally hard by the housing crash. From 2007 to 2009, home prices dropped 44%, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller national home-price index.

3. Bakersfield, Calif.
> Suburban poverty rate: 24.2%
> City poverty rate: 16.7%
> Number of suburban poor: 105,030

Poverty in the entire Bakersfield metropolitan area rose 23% from 2007 to 2009. The suburban portion of the metro has been affected far more. Bakersfield's two main industries, oil and agriculture, require a large amount of manpower. Much of this is supplied by immigrants, who often -- especially when it comes to agricultural jobs -- don't make enough money to lift them out of poverty. As of 2009, 29.1% of those living below the poverty line in Bakersfield were born outside the U.S. That's one of the highest rates in the country, according to Brookings.

2. El Paso, Texas
> Suburban poverty rate: 31.0%
> City poverty rate: 24.3%
> Number of suburban poor: 41,059

El Paso is located on the U.S.-Mexico border across from Ciudad Juarez. Despite being home to branches of a number of large manufacturers, including Boeing, Hoover, Eureka and Delphi, El Paso has an extremely high overall poverty rate. The metropolitan area's poverty rate was at 23.7% in 2009, compared to Texas's overall rate of 17.1% in the same year. Things are especially bad outside of the city. The suburban poverty rate was 31% in 2008. El Paso's economic situation has improved somewhat with the recent expansion of military base Fort Bliss, which is now one of the largest in the country. However, unemployment remains at 10.9% -- almost 17% higher than the national average.

1. McAllen, Texas
> Suburban poverty rate: 36.7%
> City poverty rate: 28.3%
> Number of suburban poor: 217,736

McAllen is another border town, located on the southern tip of Texas. In 2008, more than 85% of McAllen's poor lived in the suburbs. According to Brookings, 35.4% of McAllen's suburban poor are born outside of the U.S., as of 2009. The metropolitan area's economy has grown rapidly in the last few years, thanks largely to job growth in government, education and health care. Unemployment in McAllen remains an issue, however. In June 2011, unemployment increased to 13%, up from 11.9% the month before. The city also has the lowest median household income in the country.

Charles Stockdale & Douglas A. McIntyre

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409 Comments

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Queffer812

Dam, I live in Lakeland and was dam happy to find a job within a month after my plant closed down operations...90% of my co-workers are still unemployed after 6 months, including the general manger... Lakeland is a great town, but it's true, jobs don't exist...

August 18 2011 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

if our leaders just for once kept it simple we wouldn't have any problems , jobs , jobs , jobs ? first you need to find work , work , work ..

August 18 2011 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Greg Gilbert

Instead of competing with China we're becoming China.

August 18 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jperk2001

Six of the ten burbs have very high illegal populations, which earn far less than citizens and legals. The burden is theirs, as well as the communities that host them. Wish the Federal government would enforce our immigration laws - it would be a benefit for everyone, including us taxpayers.

Other posts have cited Texas as having low incomes, graduation rates, etc. - it's being overrun by illegals, which skew the statistics.

August 17 2011 at 11:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Scott

Two out of ten from Gov. Perry's home state.............bet they're real proud of his record on job creation....they mist be the working poor,

August 17 2011 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Scott's comment
Binky

Tax cuts create jobs. You can't raise taxes on the "job creators" This is what the "job creators" do. They screw the middle class and poor. That's the GOP plan. Still want to vote for a Republican or flea bagger?

August 19 2011 at 1:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ernest

And 4 out of 10 from liberal/ high illegal alien California.

August 22 2011 at 12:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fran Bush

ALL THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS A SALES TAX ON EVERY DOLLAR SPENT .WITH NO WAY OUT FOR ANYONE AND ALL BUSINESSES. ..T HEN NO TAX LOOP HOLES WOULD BE...NEXT THE COUNTRY NEEDS TO CLEAN UP OUR WHOLE POLITICAL MESS. GET THE LAWYERS OUT OF RUNNING THE COUNTRY FOR THE LARGE CORPS. U.S. AND OTHERS. OR THE PEOPLE NEED TO REMEMBER THE BOSTON TEA PARTY.. WE CAN NOT CONTINUE TO BE A COUNTRY OF HAVES AND HAVE KNOTS . I DO NOT WANT ANY POLITICAL UNREST ETC. JUST GET THIS GREAT COUNTRY BACK ON TRACK. WE CAN NOT FIGHT ALL THESE WARS WITH OUR YOUNG PEOPLE AND OUR MONEY..

August 17 2011 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Fran Bush's comment
johnleebass

Not only does your statement make NO SENSE (guess I just capitalize my letters like your letters --- and, perhaps use of spell check wouldn't hurt to enable us to actually read your comment. But again, it makes no sense anyway so keep up the good work!

August 18 2011 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Rose

oh gee I feel so sorry for those poor families of 4 making $44,700 and being below the poverty level. For a comparison, Afghanistan the per capita GDP is $900... for a family of 4 that is $3,600. For those of you who don't want to do the math that means that our poverty level is 12.4 times as large as their per capita GDP. Afghanistan self reports that their poverty rate is 36%, one of the worst rates on the globe. Cry me a river.

August 17 2011 at 3:26 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to David Rose's comment
Redvelvet1278

Not caring to take into account the cost of living here vs in Afghanistan is a very Republican style way of looking at things. Way to go on the facts sir. I'd love to see you raise a family of 4 on $44K. I'm sure you'd have your river then.

August 17 2011 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Katie Walters

Living on $44k/yr in Afghanistan would be great (I guess?) but this article is speaking of the US. Reading comprehension would do you well.

September 29 2011 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MIKEY'S SCREEN

GEEEEZ....I live 30 miles south of Modesto, and 60 miles north of Fresno. Talk about being between a hard place and a rock! Guess it's about time I do another "ditty" move!!!!

August 17 2011 at 3:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shirley Davidson

"Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country's largest metro areas had their poor populations grow by 25% -- almost five times faster than the cities themselves...", the Brookings Institute recently reported. Additionally, "large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200% of poverty." Thanks Bush.

August 17 2011 at 3:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shirley Davidson's comment
Binky

Tax cuts create jobs. You can't raise taxes on the "job creators" This is what the "job creators" do. They screw the middle class and poor. That's the GOP plan. Still want to vote for a Republican or flea bagger?

August 19 2011 at 1:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
aishagrim

one house building which contains the senate & house of repsentives. along with executive branch, court,and
Parliament buildings. with no corrupt subsidies considered excessive, unwarranted, wasteful, unfair, inefficient, or bought by lobbying. aka no lobbists or electoral college,no form of bribary to elect representives or presidents. and from laissez-faire " In economics, laissez-faire (English pronunciation: /ˌlɛseɪˈfɛər/ ( listen), French: [lesefɛʁ] ( listen)) describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies. and to end excessive government interference in the economy(Neoliberalism a laissez-faire state and he ... environmental regulations and government). as well opposite that business have restrictions in government and avoid corporate/Economic democracy in which companies control of government.

August 17 2011 at 3:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply