The majority of the poor in the Baltimore region now live in the city's suburbs for the first time, while the poverty rate in the city has declined, a new study has found.
The changing geography of poverty here reflects a national trend, and argues for a more regional strategy on issues ranging from social safety nets to mass transit, the study concludes.
"The notion of poverty as primarily an urban problem is officially outdated," said Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author of a report released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution in Washington. "This signals a remarkable shift in the geography of American poverty that will ultimately affect the way we think about and approach poverty alleviation strategies."
Between 2000 and 2008, the number of people living below the federal poverty line in Baltimore's suburbs grew by nearly 21,000, while the city saw a decline of more than 24,000 poor. The decline in the city's poverty rate was the third-largest among the 95 cities examined.
The Brookings study found that Baltimore's suburbs remain far more affluent than the city, with 6.1 percent of suburban residents living in poverty, compared with more than 19 percent in Baltimore.
But added together, Baltimore's suburban poor now constitute a growing majority of all the poor in the metro area. They are living in suburbia on less than $21,834 for a family of four.
The burdens of poverty and recession are being felt in the metro area's counties, which for federal statistical purposes includes Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties.
"The waiting rooms in Baltimore County's social services offices are crowded every day with people coming in to apply," said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the agency. "Many of them are new."
In Howard County, one of the nation's wealthiest localities, demands for food, eviction-prevention help and other assistance are also way up.
Applications for fuel fund assistance "are just skyrocketing," said Bita Dayhoff, director of the county's Community Action Council anti-poverty agency.
Baltimore City, meanwhile, fared surprisingly well during the same period. The census data used by the study show 24,000 fewer poor people in the city in 2008 than in 2000.
The city's poverty rate actually declined by 3.6 percentage points, to 19.3 percent, a bigger decline than in all but two of the 95 cities in the study - New Orleans and Providence, R.I.
That may be due in part to Baltimore's overall population loss, Kneebone said. "As the population declines, it may be the case that low-income people are moving out as well, for job opportunities in other regions of the country, or other parts of the metropolitan area."
It may also reflect a generally improved economy during much of the 2000-2008 period, and an influx of more affluent residents to some gentrifying Baltimore neighborhoods.
"The city is making its way back, growing and providing opportunities," said Dunbar Brooks, a demographer and data development manager for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
"Some people were coming out of poverty in the boom years, and the city lured in new families who are not in poverty." And poor people do move in search of a better life, he said.
U.S. Census migration data for the period 2006 to 2008 shows an annual average of more than 5,800 people with incomes below the poverty line moved into Baltimore County, compared with an average of just 4,075 moving into the city. The data does not reveal where they moved from.
Once the symbol of upward mobility, the American suburbs are now home to the fastest-growing population of poor people, increasing faster than those in big cities, small metropolitan areas or rural places.
Nationally, the ranks of those living in poverty increased by more than 5.2 million people from 2000 to 2008. That was an increase of 15.4 percent, the Brookings study found.
But the growth rate in the suburbs was 25 percent, compared with just 5.6 percent in the 95 largest cities. "Because of this growth rate ... the suburbs also became home to the largest share of the poor population in the country," Kneebone said.
For the first time, suburban residents constitute a majority of the nation's metropolitan poor - 53.3 percent, up from 49 percent in 2000.
Midwestern cities and suburbs - especially in auto manufacturing areas - experienced by far the greatest increases in city and suburban poverty, the study found. Some northeastern metropolitan areas, including Baltimore, Washington, New York, Providence, R.I., and Worcester, Mass., saw declines in urban poverty and relatively small growth in suburban poverty.
As the nation moves beyond the old patterns of urban poverty and suburban affluence, policymakers will have to adopt more regional approaches to a variety of issues, the study concludes, from social safety nets to transportation, affordable housing and job creation.