Nonprofit Newswire | Poverty Is Up in Suburbs But Services Aren’t Keeping Pace

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October 7, 2010; Source: | The fact that poverty is up in cities in the U.S. and service providers are struggling to keep pace with demand isn’t news. The news, though, is that many suburbs also are seeing a jump in poor people and few of the affected communities are equipped for the problem.

Yesterday we reported in the Newswire about a new health clinic for the poor in the otherwise affluent Dallas suburb, West Plano. This clinic isn’t the norm, however.

A new report prepared for the Brookings Institution finds that “social service agencies, which provide emergency food and housing relief, job training, help with health care and other assistance to low-income populations, were often not well-positioned to respond to the increase in poverty” in suburban communities. “Suburbs in Need: Rising Suburban Poverty and Challenges for Suburban Safety Nets,” is based on an examination of census data, records from the Internal Revenue Service, and interviews with representatives of social service agencies in suburban Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

The report finds that in several suburban counties outside Chicago the number of poor residents jumped more than 30 percent from 2000 to 2008. Similarly, portions of counties in suburban Maryland and northern Virginia saw a big climb in the number of poor people living there during the same period.

One of the studies authors, Scott Allard, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, writes that safety nets in suburban communities “rely on relatively few social service organizations, and those few organizations tend to stretch operations across much larger service delivery areas than their urban counterparts.” Another problem is that social service providers aren’t raising sufficient funds, something that is likely to continue due to the slow pace of the economic recovery.

Allard said that nearly half of suburban nonprofits surveyed “reported a loss in a key revenue source last year, with more funding cuts anticipated in the year to come.” He added that nearly 30 percent of nonprofits have laid off full-time and part-time staff. The result is that poor people are put on lists while waiting for help.—Bruce Trachtenberg