More than half of all poor people in the Akron metropolitan area now live in the suburbs, mirroring a trend that has seen poverty shift out of major cities over the last decade, the Brookings Institution says in a new book released today.
The think tank estimated that there are 113,671 people living in poverty in the metro area, which includes Portage County. Nearly 58,000 of those live outside the city of Akron.
Poverty grew twice as fast in the Akron suburbs as in the city over the last decade, according to the book Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. The number of poor surged 96.9 percent in the suburbs and only 50.8 percent in the city between 2000 and 2011.
Despite that, the poverty rate in the Akron suburbs was 11.8 percent, well below the 28.9 percent in the city.
The report defines poverty using federal guidelines. In 2011, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $22,350.
Book authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube attributed the suburban shift to a variety of reasons, including people moving out of cities, jobs shifting to suburbs, unemployment, the collapse of the housing market and the foreclosure crisis.
Policymakers must rethink where they devote anti-poverty efforts, they said. The authors urged the federal government to create a competitive $4 billion grant program for states similar to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative for education.
The money would come from an existing pool of $82 billion a year provided to at least 80 federal programs.
Kneebone and Berube studied the 100 largest metro areas in the nation.
The Akron metro region ranked 23rd worst in the country for the percentage growth in suburban poverty. It was second in Ohio behind only Dayton, which saw a 109.3 percent increase.
The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga., metro area led the nation at 158.9 percent. The national average was 63.6 percent.
The Brookings findings come as no surprise to those who deal with poverty on a daily basis.
In January, the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies issued its State of Poverty 2012, revealing that poverty grew in suburban counties by nearly 70 percent statewide over the last decade.
And a Beacon Journal analysis in December showed a 71 percent increase over the last five years in the number of rural and suburban residents seeking government food assistance.
Philip Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies in Columbus, noted that the data on suburban poverty can be shocking for some people. They have a preconceived notion of what poor people look like and reality doesn’t match the image.
“One in 12 people in poverty have a college degree, at least a bachelor’s degree,” Cole said.
Mark Frisone, executive director of Family & Community Services in Ravenna, agreed. His agency runs homeless shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens in Portage, Geauga and Trumbull counties, and helped about 90,000 individuals last year.
“The face of poverty has changed,” he said. “There’s no question that those who rely on services that we provide are a vastly different demographic than they were five years ago.”
He noted, for example, that more than half of the people seeking help have jobs but don’t make enough money to support their families.
“Hopefully, with the economy righting itself, those who never needed us will go back to never needing us again,” Frisone said.
Cole said many suburban residents don’t realize how quickly they can spiral into poverty.
“There’s this disbelief that it’s not going to happen to me. But it does,” Cole said. “There are a whole lot of ‘mes’ out there.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.