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

Porest Suburbs
Porest Suburbs

While 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.

Sponsored Links

"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.

Gallery: IN PHOTOS: The Poorest Suburbs In America

Poorest Suburbs in America
Poorest Suburbs in America

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