STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Where is suburban poverty growing fastest in Michigan? Grand Rapids.

Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

A recent research brief from the Brookings Institution takes a look at the startling rise of concentrated poverty in America over the past decade or so. 

The brief finds that the number of neighborhoods in the U.S. where at least 40% of residents are considered poor has risen by more than 70% since 2000. That is to say, poverty has become more concentrated in certain areas. That's significant because the Brookings researchers say people living in areas of concentrated poverty face a "double burden" – their own poverty, and the poverty of those around them:

The challenges of poor neighborhoods – including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities – make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

The problem of concentrated poverty has been spreading to places you might not expect: the suburbs. Brookings finds that the number of neighborhoods with at least 40% of people living in poverty has grown by 150% in the suburbs since 2000. That's about triple the rate of growth in urban areas during the same time. 

And there's one metropolitan area in Michigan where the rise of suburban poverty stands out: Grand Rapids. 

Nearly a third of the people living in poverty in the Grand Rapids area right now live in the suburbs.

In 2000, no census tract in the Grand Rapids suburbs had a poverty rate above 20%, according to Brookings. By the period of 2008-2012, there were 20 suburban census tracts with that distinction. 

Nearly a third of the people living in poverty in the Grand Rapids area right now live in the suburbs. 

Grand Rapids ranks eighth in the country for the rise in suburban poverty concentration since 2000. 

Grand Rapids isn't the only area in Michigan where suburban poverty is growing. The Brookings data shows an 88% growth in suburban poverty in the Detroit metro area over the same time period. In Grand Rapids, the number is 107%. 

This data has major implications for how we attack the problem of poverty in our communities. For decades, our government assistance offices and our non-profits have focused their energies in cities. Concentrated poverty was an urban problem. 

The Brookings research shows that's changing. Organizations will have to change along with it. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.