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Published: 5/21/2013

Poverty in the suburbs

The United States is no longer a nation of farms or singular cities and suburbs, but one of interconnected metropolitan regions that cross city, county, and even state lines. Urban areas such as northwest Ohio share problems that will take a coordinated, regional response to fix.

A report that details rising suburban poverty rates nationwide underscores how problems that were once identified as central-city issues now affect entire regions. Nearly two-thirds more suburban residents lived below the poverty line in 2010 than in 2000, the Brookings Institution, using U.S. Census Bureau data, reported this week.

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Toledo-area suburbs were especially hard hit, with poverty rates rising more than 94 percent over the decade.

“When people think of poverty in America, they tend to think of inner-city neighborhoods or isolated rural communities,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, one of two Brookings fellows who wrote the report. “But today, suburbs are home to the largest and fastest growing poor population in the country.”

To be sure, poverty is still more concentrated in America’s central cities, with two-thirds of this region’s poor living in Toledo. The city got smaller and poorer during the past decade: Its population dropped from 306,933 to 282,989, while poverty rates rose from 17.9 percent to more than 25 percent. Meantime, Bowling Green’s poverty rate rose from 25 percent to 33 percent.

But suburban and rural municipalities, relatively speaking, showed even bigger increases in poverty rates over the past decade. Poverty rates in Fulton and Ottawa counties nearly doubled, to about 10 percent. Oregon and Wood County showed smaller but significant increases. Perrysburg’s poverty rate decreased slightly, from 2.8 to 2.4 percent.

More recent figures show poverty rates continuing to rise in the Toledo area. In 2011, an estimated 30.1 percent of Toledo’s residents lived below the poverty line. In the suburbs, 12.4 percent did.

Suburban leaders can’t fix these problems on their own because their communities — whether they like it or not — are part of a regional economy. Moving forward will take coordinated efforts on housing, education, economic development, and especially transportation.

To serve an interdependent regional economy, local leaders ought to encourage more communities to join the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, giving suburban businesses greater access to central-city workers and consumers.

Problems such as poverty have moved to the suburbs from the central city, which continues to control the region’s identity and image, as well as most of its educational and cultural institutions.

Shared problems ought to push Toledo area leaders, and their constituents, to demand shared solutions.



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