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Metro area eighth for suburban poverty

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque metropolitan area ranks eighth in the country for suburban poverty, according to a new book published by the Brookings Institution.

Albuquerque’s eighth place comes from a 17 percent suburban poverty rate, which falls behind the list-topping Texas metropolitan areas of El Paso and McAllen, with suburban poverty rates of 36.4 percent and 35.4 percent.

The metropolitan areas with the lowest suburban poverty rates are Des Moines, Iowa, with 5.7 percent, the Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., area with 5.9 percent and Baltimore, with 6.7 percent.

The book, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” published today, compares the top 100 metropolitan areas’ city and suburban poverty numbers.

Yet, unlike many other cities, Albuquerque’s suburbs have a lower poverty rate than Albuquerque itself.

Poverty is generally defined as “not earning enough money to meet one’s basic needs,” according to Kim Posich, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Approximately 22 percent of Albuquerque residents and between 21.5 and 23 percent of New Mexico residents live in poverty, which the federal government calculates as a four-person family living on about $22,500 a year, he added.

In 1970, nationwide, 7.4 million city dwellers and 6.4 million suburbanites lived in poverty. By 2011, the number of poor suburbanites exceeded the number of poor city dwellers. In 2011, 12.8 million people in cities and 15.3 million people in suburbs lived in poverty.

For the Albuquerque metropolitan area — which the U.S. census estimates to include 901,000 people in Sandoval, Valencia, Torrance and Bernalillo counties — numbers trended in the opposite direction. In 1970, 34,116 Albuquerqueans and 34,784 suburbanites lived in poverty, making the split just about even. But 41 years later, 106,397 Albuquerqueans were living in poverty, compared with 74,688 suburbanites.

Albuquerque’s data bucked national trends in the first half of that four-decade period because the city kept gobbling up geographical portions of unincorporated land, says Alan Berube, a senior Brookings fellow who co-wrote the 143-page book with Brookings colleague Elizabeth Kneebone over a two-year period.

“Parts (of Albuquerque) that were in the suburbs in 1970 are actually part of the city today, because the city has absorbed those communities … so that has added to its population, and it (has) added to its poor population, too,” Berube said.

Berube said that in the latter half of the 40-year period, the Albuquerque metro area’s poverty movement has been more reflective of the national trend of moving toward the suburbs.

“From 1970 to 1990, it was a fast-growing city, expanding its borders. In the last decade or two, though, we see a little more of the growth of the poor populations growing outside the city than inside.”

Factors driving poverty from cities to the suburbs include population shifts, immigration and unemployment, according to press materials accompanying the book.

New Mexico Voices for Children spokeswoman Sharon Kayne thinks Albuquerque city dwellers’ poverty may also be employment-related, as flight from cities to suburbs is driven by opportunities out of poverty through good jobs — opportunities those who are poor don’t always have.

“The people who are making the most money — working for Sandia National Labs for example — are going to live in the suburbs,” she said. “It’s the people who can’t get those employment opportunities who are the working poor or unemployed who are more likely to live in poverty.”

For those in the suburbs, poverty looks different than city poverty.

“It tends to be hidden; it tends to be spread out — not as concentrated,” Berube says.

Also, there’s a lack of access to the help needed to get out of it, he says.

“In the city you’re not too far from a network of support and services that can help you get by,” Berube says. “That’s typically not the case in the suburbs — you can be isolated from networks that help you get access to what you and your family might need.”