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Now suburbia is where the poor are
The image of suburbia as a land of plenty, offering refuge to families fleeing urban poverty, may be about as outmoded as a wood-panel station wagon.

That's because poverty has moved to the suburbs. The number of suburban residents living in poverty jumped by almost 64% from 2000 to 2011, which means about 16.4 million suburban residents now struggle with low incomes, Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told MSN moneyNOW. Her research will be published in May in a book called "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

That means suburbia is now home to more poor people than cities, which house 13.4 million people living in poverty, according to the institute's study of 95 U.S. metropolitan areas.

"To effectively address the challenges, it's important to know where the poor live, and we have outdated perceptions" of where poverty strikes home, Kneebone said.

The spread of poverty was spurred by the two economic downturns during the past decade, starting with the early-2000 recession and made worse by the 2007-2009 Great Recession. The poverty rate in America is at about its highest level in almost two decades, with roughly 15% of the country falling under the threshold.

"Lower-income individuals are moving to the suburbs, finding work" in decentralized and lower-wage jobs, Kneebone said. But long-term suburbanites "are slipping down the economic ladder."

Low-wage jobs have accounted for the biggest share of new positions since the Great Recession, with a poll earlier this month finding that workers making $35,000 or less are unsure whether they'll ever find advancement.

The jump in suburban poor is putting more pressure on those communities, especially if the towns are without the infrastructure to provide necessary support systems. "The safety net is much patchier than in urban areas that may have been building up these resources over decades," Kneebone notes.

But suburbia isn't alone in seeing more poor residents, she adds. The number of poor people in cities rose by 29% during the same period -- a smaller pace than in suburbia but still significant.

"It's growing fastest in suburbia, but it's not like another community type is doing so much better," Kneebone notes.

Overall, about 48.9 million Americans live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A family of four earning less than about $22,800 would qualify for that designation.
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