University of Wisconsin–Madison
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The changing geography of poverty

Poverty in the United States has found a new home: the suburbs. Beginning in the year 2000, for the first time in American history, the total number of poor people living in the suburbs exceeded those living in central cities in the 95 largest metropolitan areas. This growth has since continued. More than two-thirds of the increase in poverty in major metropolitan areas has taken place in their suburbs. By 2012 the suburbs accounted for 56 percent of the poor population in these metropolitan areas, exceeding the number of urban poor by 3.5 million. Comparable numbers of urban and suburban persons now live in extreme poverty. Importantly, the rise of suburban poverty has not corresponded with decreases in urban poverty. Poverty rates continue to remain higher in central cities and rural areas than in suburbs. Nevertheless, suburbs in metropolitan areas across the United States are now faced with challenges once thought to be distinctly urban: poverty, joblessness, and decline. In this article, we draw on some of the most recent research of scholars working in this field to better define suburban poverty, describe its trends, and outline several consequences for suburban safety nets. We then conclude with a brief discussion of implications for research and policy.

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Economic Support, Means-Tested Programs, Place, Spatial Mismatch

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