October 4, 2022

Broke in the Burbs

Poverty in Florida's suburbs is growing faster than in cities.

Amy Keller | 3/1/2010

? [Photo: iStock]
Lakeland is known for high school football, its quaint downtown and a unique collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at Florida Southern College. Its central location, meanwhile, has helped to transform the Polk County suburbs into a popular bedroom community for Tampa and Orlando commuters, who moved there in droves over the past two decades.

These days, Lakeland also claims a more dubious distinction. According to a report published in January by the Brookings Institution, Lakeland had the fifth-highest suburban poverty rate in the nation in 2008. According to the study, 75,075 people in Lakeland’s surrounding suburbs — 15.8% of the population — live below the poverty level of $21,834 for a family of four. Within Lakeland’s city limits, meanwhile, 12,182 people, or 13.3% of the population, live in poverty.

The explosion of poverty in Lakeland’s suburbs mirrors a national trend — between 2000 and 2008, according to the Brookings’ study, the country’s largest metro areas saw the poor population in their suburbs grow by 25% — a rate about five times faster than in cities.

Top 10 Poverty Rates
in the Suburbs 2008

1. McAllen, Texas
2. El Paso, Texas
3. Bakersfield, Calif.
4. Fresno, Calif.
5. Lakeland
6. Modesto, Calif.
7. Little Rock, Ark.
8. Jackson, Miss.
9. Augusta-Richmond Co., Ga.-S.C.
10. Albuquerque, N.M. 13.6
Brookings attributes the shifting "geography of poverty" to the fact that current economic downturn has taken a "toll on traditionally more suburbanized industries," and that more job loss has been concentrated in the suburbs as well.

Suburban pockets of Miami, Tampa and Palm Bay have also been hard hit. Nearly 70% of Tampa Bay’s 337,470 poor live in the suburbs, the study shows. Brookings concludes that this "ongoing shift in the geography of American poverty" will require "regional scale collaboration by policymakers and social service providers in order to effectively address the needs of a poor population that is increasingly suburban."

Changes in Poverty 2000-08
> Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater
? No. of Poor Poverty Rate/Chg. Since 2000
Cities 102,579 15.3% / -0.1%
Suburbs 234,891 11.7% / 2.1%
> Orlando
? No. of Poor Poverty Rate/Chg. Since 2000
Cities 43,732 18.9% / 3%
Suburbs 197,004 11.0% / 1%
> Palm Bay
? No. of Poor Poverty Rate/Chg. Since 2000
Cities 10,087 10% / 0.5%
Suburbs 44,729 10.5% / 1%

Change in Projected Poverty Rates
Select Florida Metro Areas (2008-09)
Metro Area Percentage Point Change
Cape Coral-Fort Myers
Lakeland-Winter Haven
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach 2.5

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