FOR more than half a century, Americans have fled the cities in their millions, heading away from crime and poverty towards better schools and safer neighbourhoods in the suburbs. Now poverty is catching up with them. According to two new reports from the Brookings Institution, over the past decade the number of poor people in the suburbs has jumped by a whopping 37.4% to 13.7m, compared with some 12.1m people below the poverty line in cities. Although poverty rates remain higher in the inner cities, the gap is narrowing.
Suburban areas largely escaped during earlier downturns, but not this time. Support groups say people are using safety-net programmes, such as food stamps or unemployment insurance, who have never applied for them before. They are often making tough choices. “It’s mortgage or food,” observes Paule Pachter of Long Island Cares, a non-profit group on Long Island, one of the first destinations to be populated by escapees from the city.