The blog of the Urban Institute
September 14, 2011

Rising Poverty and Metropolitan Distress

September 14, 2011

New Census  numbers find 15.1 percent of Americans  in poverty-- the highest share since 1993.  Given the sluggish job market, poverty rates will probably climb higher  in the coming months. Persistent unemployment – and long spells of joblessness for many – exhausts families’ private resources and public benefits and pushes them into poverty. Almost half the jobless have been out of work for more than six months (look here for more on long-term unemployment and here for the link with poverty).

The Great Recession has hit some metros especially hard. Preliminary estimates show urban poverty rates above 25 percent in such metros as Flint MI, Santa Barbara CA, McAllen TX, and Baton Rouge LA. Some of these local economies have been struggling since the 1990s; others were especially vulnerable to the collapse of the housing market and construction industry.

In contrast, metros like Green Bay WI, Des Moines IA, and Washington DC are faring much better, with more robust economies and poverty rates below 10 percent.

Nationwide, poverty is similar in metro areas and non-metro areas. But every fifth person in core metro areas is poor, compared to only 12 percent of the population outside of a principal city. In the Washington region, for instance, DC’s poverty rate stands at 20 percent, compared to 7 percent in DC's Maryland suburbs and 6 percent in DC's Virginia suburbs.

As the national economy keeps struggling to  recover, poverty and hardship will remain high and families will need  help. Their needs will be most pressing in the hardest hit metros, where whole communities have been scarred by the Great Recession, and state and local resources are depleted.


As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.


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