As poverty skyrockets in the suburbs, a new report says the suburbs now have as many poor people as the city of Chicago.
The "Poverty Matters" report, released today by the Heartland Alliance's Social IMPACT Research Center, says the suburbs accounted for 34 percent of the area's poor in 1990. Now, the suburbs are home to 50 percent of the area's poor.
It's part of a trend researchers call "the suburbanization of poverty."
"We were pretty shocked that it balanced out to 50-50," said research associate Jennifer Clary. "It definitely flies in the face of the image of affluence in the suburbs."
The shift of poverty from the city to the suburbs is not unique to Chicago -- it's a nationwide trend, Clary said.
Poverty is defined based on the 2011 federal figures: income of less than $11,484 per year for a single person, or less than $23,021 for a family of four.
In sheer numbers, the poor population in the suburbs nearly doubled from about 323,000 in 1990 to 630,000 in 2011, far outstripping overall population growth in the suburbs.
A separate Daily Herald analysis of Illinois State Report Card data showed poverty rates in suburban schools increased an average of 18 points between 2000 and 2012, creating educational and financial obstacles for some local schools.
Increasing poverty also has left some social service agencies struggling to keep up with need.
Since poverty is a complex problem, the Heartland Alliance report states there is no single reason for the shift. Causes include growth in low-wage work, stagnating wages and shifts in policies for low-income housing, according to the report.
But while the shift has occurred over decades, the suburbs don't yet have the extensive social services and infrastructure in place -- things like easy access to public transportation -- to help the growing poor populations.
In the suburbs, the poverty rate increased by 33 percent for foreign-born people, 26 percent for native-born whites, 31 percent for native-born Latinos, and 12 percent for native-born blacks from 1990 to 2011.
The report encouraged suburbs to take stock of social services and housing and transit programs for the poor.
"We do really need to keep in mind poverty is detrimental to everyone," Clary said. "It really is in everyone's best interest that there's an adequate safety net for people so they don't fall into poverty."