Americans tend to think of poverty as urban or rural””housing estates or shacks in the woods. And it is true that poverty rates tend to be higher in cities and the countryside. But the suburbs are where you will find America’s biggest and fastest-growing poor population, as Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution explain in their book “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America”. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four in 2010) in the suburbs grew by 53%, compared with just 23% in cities. In 2010 roughly 15.3m poor people lived in the suburbs, compared with 12.8m in cities
Suburban poverty began to rise before the recession. As American cities have grown safer and richer, homes there have become less affordable. During the subprime bubble, many people with bad credit scores got mortgages and moved to the suburbs. A shift towards housing vouchers and away from massive urban projects encouraged people in subsidised housing to make the same move. Immigrants, too, chased the American dream of neat lawns and picket fences. Now 51% of immigrants (who are more likely than the native-born to be poor) live in suburbs, compared with just 33% in cities.