Denver suburban poverty less acute
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.”