Den­ver subur­ban poverty less acute

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar

Poverty has gen­er­ally been ris­ing faster in sub­urbs than in ur­ban ar­eas dur­ing the past 15 years, but that na­tion­wide trend has been far less pro­nounced in metro Den­ver, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

The re­port, re­leased Thurs­day by Apart­ment List, found that the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in high-poverty cen­sus tracts in subur­ban ar­eas in metro Den­ver went up 3 per­cent from 2000 to 2015. That trails Chicago, for ex­am­ple, which showed a 10 per­cent in­crease in subur­ban poverty over the same pe­riod, and is sig­nif­i­cantly be­low Cincin­nati, which had a 32 per­cent spike in the cat­e­gory.

But the re­port, based on data from Har­vard Univer­sity’s Joint Cen­ter on Hous­ing Stud­ies, sug­gests that de­spite the faster rise of subur­ban poverty, the metro area over­all has seen poverty reach more of its neigh­bor­hoods over the last decade and a half — with 111 high-poverty neigh­bor­hoods in 2015 com­pared to 44 in 2000.

“One of the (na­tion­wide) trends we’re see­ing is that subur­ban poverty is not in­creas­ing be­cause ur­ban poverty is de­creas­ing,” said Syd­ney Ben­net, a re­search as­sis­tant with Apart­ment List. “It’s in­creas­ing in all neigh­bor­hood types but just faster in the sub­urbs.”

The re­port used fed­eral guide­lines to de­fine poverty, which in 2015 was $24,250 or less for a fam­ily of four.

Scott Al­lard, a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy and gov­er­nance at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton and a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, said the phe­nom­e­non of subur­ban poverty is noth­ing new in the United States. The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty in the na­tion’s sub­urbs eclipsed the num­ber of ur­ban poor more than a decade ago, he said.

He said that tip­ping point oc­curred in the Den­ver metro as far back as 1990. By 2014, he said, there were al­most twice as many poor peo­ple call­ing the sub­urbs home as there were liv­ing in Den­ver.

Al­lard, who re­cently wrote a book on the topic, “Places in Need,” blames the phe­nom­e­non on whole­sale changes in the la­bor mar­ket, where well-pay­ing, lowskilled jobs have largely evap­o­rated over the last cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions.

He said re­cent and wide­spread gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in Den­ver neigh­bor­hoods — where rapidly ris­ing home prices and rental rates have prod­ded peo­ple to look for homes in cheaper out­ly­ing ar­eas — “has am­pli­fied those out­ward pushes.”

Ro­bust pop­u­la­tion growth and a healthy la­bor mar­ket “across lots of dif­fer­ent sec­tors” spared metro Den­ver the sharp in­creases in subur­ban poverty that oc­curred in other big U.S. metro ar­eas, Al­lard said.

Naomi Ru­bin, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Corner­stone Food Bank in En­gle­wood, said it is not al­ways easy to de­tect subur­ban dwellers who have fallen on hard times. They may drive a fairly nice car and live in a “com­fort­able mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood” but are deal­ing with the last­ing chal­lenges wrought by last decade’s se­vere eco­nomic down­turn — with an un­der­wa­ter mort­gage or a bread­win­ner mak­ing far less than he or she used to.

“Peo­ple are em­ployed, but they’re not em­ployed full time,” she said. “And with the in­crease in hous­ing costs, it’s get­ting harder for them to make ends meet.”

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