Rising Suburban Poverty Challenges the Safety Net

food pantry poverty
food pantry poverty

While the Great Recession caused the U.S. poverty rate to hit a 15-year peak, a longer trend has seen suburban poverty increasing. According to a new report from The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group based in Washington, D.C, the recession only exacerbated the problem, with social safety nets providing fewer services to meet the rising need.

In 1999, cities and their suburbs had roughly equal numbers of poor residents. But by 2008, the number of suburban poor exceeded the poor in central cities by 1.5 million. Although poverty rates remain higher in central cities than in suburbs (18.2% versus 9.5% in 2008), poverty rates have increased at a faster pace in suburban areas.

But while there are more suburban poor, suburban social safety nets rely on relatively few social services organizations, and tend to stretch operations across much larger areas than their urban counter­parts. About a third operate in more than one county, and 60% offed services in more than one suburban municipality.

These relatively fewer services in the suburbs, however, saw demand increase significantly. Almost three-quarters (73%) of suburban nonprofits are seeing more clients with no previous connection to safety net programs. And they report that needs have changed as well, with nearly 80% of suburban nonprofits surveyed seeing families with food needs more often than one year prior, and nearly 60% reporting more frequent requests for help with mortgage or rent payments.

And despite the fewer service and the increased demand, almost half (47%) the suburban nonprofits reported a loss in a key rev­enue source last year, with more funding cuts anticipated in the year to come. One in five suburban nonprofits has reduced services available since the start of the recession and one in seven has actively cut caseloads. Nearly 30% of nonprofits have laid off full-time and part-time staff.

The report examines data from the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as a new survey of social services providers in suburban communities surrounding Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

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