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Poverty rises in suburbs, help lags: Brookings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Poverty has increased in the suburbs of U.S. cities in the last decade, but public services to the poor have not kept pace, according to a report by the Brookings Institution on Thursday.

The recession that began at the end of 2007 “exacerbated this gap,” the liberal-leaning think tank said, adding that almost three-quarters of non-profit assistance groups in the suburbs “are seeing more clients with no previous connection to safety net programs.”

There are few social service organizations outside of cities and public agencies frequently have to stretch their help across large geographic areas, according to the report.

In 1999, cities and their suburbs had roughly equal numbers of poor residents, but by 2008 the number of suburban poor exceeded that of urban poor by 1.5 million.

“Although poverty rates remain higher in central cities than in suburbs (18.2 percent versus 9.5 percent in 2008), poverty rates have increased at a quicker pace in suburban areas,” Brookings said.

The U.S. economy has gone through two recessions in the last 10 years, with the one that officially ended last summer the longest and deepest economic downturn the United States has experienced in 70 years.

“More than in previous recessions, suburban communities have experienced rates of unemployment comparable to those in cities,” Brookings said.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect a report on employment due Friday will show the national unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in September from 9.6 percent in August. The country’s jobless rate has been above 9 percent for 16 months, Labor Department data shows.

Filings for the earned income tax credit, which is reserved for low-income workers, have grown over the last decade, with half of that growth in suburban communities. Food stamp and unemployment insurance caseloads, meanwhile, “rose at a faster rate in suburban communities than in central cities during the first year of the Great Recession,” Brookings said.

“Overall, suburban safety nets run the risk of becoming reliant on fewer organizations that will continue to be under-resourced even as they take on responsibility for assisting more low-income families,” Brookings said.

It said that non-profit organizations have experienced a drop in donations and other funding streams, while demand for their aid has increased during the recession.

The economic stimulus plan, which boosted public assistance in the form of unemployment insurance and food stamps, is winding down and could put further stress on non-profits, Brookings said.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Padraic Cassidy