Study: Poverty in Philadelphia suburbs up nearly 1%

Poverty increased nearly 1 percent in Philadelphia's suburbs between 2000 and 2008, partly because of two recessions, according to a report being released today.

Poverty in the suburbs reached a rate of 7.4 percent, compared with 24.1 percent within Philadelphia, according to the report by the Brookings Institution. Citywide poverty increased 1.2 percent between 2000 and 2008, the report showed.

Nationwide, suburban poverty increased by 25 percent during that time frame, nearly five times the rate of urban poverty, according to the report.

By 2008, 13.2 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line, $21,834 for a family of four.

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public-policy organization based in Washington.

For the purposes of the report, the suburbs include the following counties: New Castle in Delaware; Cecil in Maryland; Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem in South Jersey; and Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery in Pennsylvania.

David Elesh, a principal investigator for Temple University's Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, called the suburban poverty increase modest and not unexpected. "The surprise is it isn't more," he said, because of two economic recessions between 2000 and 2008.

He said he believed that when suburban poverty in 2009 is measured, a greater increase would be found. "It was in 2009 that we saw the bulk of jobs losses in this area, and we're not through with losing jobs yet."

The notion of suburban poverty is still difficult for some people to understand, since suburbs seem to be green oases away from urban troubles, said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

But, Ward said, "there are certain centers in every county with concentrations of poverty - Norristown, Bensalem, Coatesville, and Chester."

Poverty has increased in the suburbs because of the sluggish economy as well as higher health-care costs and increased immigration, she said.

Also, many poor urban dwellers move to the suburbs to escape crime, she added.

Another indication of hard times in the suburbs is measured by increased numbers of residents receiving food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Between December 2008 and December 2009, for example, the percentage change in SNAP participants went up in every Philadelphia suburb in Pennsylvania, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

In Montgomery County, the increase was 33 percent; in Delaware County, 23 percent; in Bucks County, 32 percent; and in Chester County, 28 percent. By comparison, Philadelphia saw a 14 percent increase in SNAP participants during the same period.

For many people, poverty becomes more of an immediate concern when it hits the suburbs, said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger.

"Urban poverty is always an epidemic," she said. "But when it hits the suburbs, people know that poverty can happen to them, because it's happening to their neighbors."


Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or