Journal Article

Overlooked Suburbs: The Changing Metropolitan Geography of Poverty in the Western United States

Abstract: This report examines trends between 1990 and 2014—18 in the location of populations experiencing poverty, which we define as those with incomes below the federal poverty line, within metropolitan regions in the United States, with a particular focus on the western United States. We explore how growing suburban poverty is distributed across jurisdictional boundaries that shape governance outcomes, including incorporated and unincorporated suburbs. The size of a suburb and its incorporation status affect its position within local-regional political structures, and smaller suburbs may be overlooked by public, private, and nonprofit organizations in the community development field. Size and incorporation status also affect a suburb’s access to certain federal funds, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, a key source of funding for local antipoverty programs. Variation in the distribution of populations experiencing poverty across census regions and metropolitan areas has implications for public and philanthropic spending on social services for low- and moderate-income populations. In this report, we first discuss average trends in the distribution of poverty across urban and suburban jurisdictions in five census regions. For comparison, we divide metropolitan areas into five geographies—the largest city in a metro area, other principal cities, large suburban cities, small suburban cities, and unincorporated areas. Next, we profile 14 metropolitan areas in the western United States through “data snapshots” showing changes in poverty rates and racial and ethnic demographics. We conclude by discussing the implications of these trends for community development practitioners seeking to promote economic participation and financial stability among low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color.

Keywords: suburban poverty; urban areas; suburban areas; diversity; community development; economic participation; financial stability;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Part of Series: Community Development Research Brief

Publication Date: 2022-01-31

Volume: 2022

Issue: 01

Pages: 160

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