Poverty is something most Americans don’t like to think much about—unless they’re struggling to rise out of it. When they do focus on it, images of rural shacks or dilapidated neighborhoods in crime-ridden cities usually come to mind.
Except that’s no longer quite so accurate. In recent years, poverty has increased the most in the nation’s suburbs and exurbs. The numbers tell the rather startling story: High-poverty neighborhoods shot up 76% in the suburbs and 123% in the exurbs (farther-out suburbs on the edges of metros) from 2000 to 2015, according to an analysis from Apartment List. The rental website analyzed a recent Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies report.
The reason: “It’s gotten too expensive to live in the core cities, so people are moving out to the suburbs,” says Andrew Woo, Apartment List’s director of data science. And many are bringing their financial challenges with them to their new nonurban life. “Poverty is spreading and concentrating in high-poverty neighborhoods. … It causes property values to fall. It tends to shift [communities] more from ownership to rentals.”
The problem is nationwide. The number of people living under the federal poverty line skyrocketed 41% from 2000 to 2015 as the financial crisis and the ensuing recession raged on to reach 47.7 million people, according to the Harvard report. The number of high-poverty neighborhoods (where the poverty rate is 20% or higher) also jumped 59%. That means that about 54% of the poorest Americans now live in high-poverty areas.