Poverty in Philly suburbs grew 40 percent since 2000

Poverty in the Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs grew by 40 percent between 2000 and 2011. In the Allentown region, that number was 50 percent.

Bill Clark, head of Philabundance, a hunger relief organization that serves the Delaware Valley said those numbers don’t even reflect the growth in numbers of people coming to food pantries, who he described as the “working poor.”

“The thing that’s been driving the huge shift to the suburbs we’ve seen for need … was the vast increases in the number of people who are about the poverty rate but less than twice the poverty rate,” he explained.

“The larger safety nets [in the suburbs] may not be as established or as strong as an urban community or someplace that’s been struggling with these challenges for longer,” noted Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author with Alan Berube of a new book from the Brookings Institution, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.

Strategies lagging

The geography of where poor Americans live is increasingly suburban, but Kneebone argued that poverty alleviation strategies have not caught up.

In Philadelphia’s suburban schools, where the number of students on free and reduced-price lunch has skyrocketed, she said there has not been the same availability of wrap-around services for poor youth.

Nationally, the number of poor people living in suburbs has exceded the number of those living in cities. The problem is bigger and predates the “Great Recession.”

Kneebone and Brookings reccomend investing in regional nonprofits and collaborations to streamline the delivery of services. Food pantries could become mobile food pantries. Organizations should consolidate.

Bill Clark could be described as somewhat skeptical.

If there aren’t enough food donations to go around, he said, a change in strategy won’t fix that.

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