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Nation’s Oldest Suburbs Coping with Poverty Shift

September 23, 2013

NEW YORK - As suburbs grow older, they have become more affordable to low-income families. Experts say that is driving a major shift in poverty and bringing big challenges to suburban communities.

Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, said if you look at the number of poor people in the region, it has grown only 2 percent in the city over the past decade - while New York's suburbs saw a more than tenfold increase in the number of poor people.

"In the region's suburbs - including Long Island, northern New Jersey and parts of Upstate - it was up 28 percent," he said, "so definitely, the direction of poverty is moving quite rapidly toward the region's suburbs and away from the city."

While the trend presents a positive opportunity for low-income families, Berube said it also presents challenges, because the poor are not spreading out evenly. They tend to end up in older communities with less economic opportunity and access to transportation, he explained, and that is resulting in re-segregation of the poor in suburbia.

Jennifer Rojas, vice president of grants and operations, Rauch Foundation, said re-segregation is especially apparent when it comes to educational opportunities on Long Island.

"School districts with some of the highest income levels are bordering next to school districts with 80-, 90-percent free and reduced lunch. The outcomes are those in the higher income districts are doing well, those in the lower income districts aren't," Rojas said.

The Rauch Foundation focuses on funding early education because it considers that the most productive way to attack poverty, she said. Job one requires getting even the folks on Long Island to admit there are poor people, she added, pointing out that often they are living next door.

"The first challenge is helping people to recognize that there is poverty out here on Long Island, and helping foundations that normally would overlook Long Island pay attention and see the need," Rojas said.

Berube, co-author of the book "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America," said with more people moving to the suburbs, the nation needs to rethink how it funds poverty programs.

More information is available at www.confrontingsuburbanpoverty.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY