Poverty doubled in Twin Cities suburbs over past decade

The increase reflects a national trend.

by Branden Largent


As the number of poor Twin Cities residents has climbed over the past decade, the suburban area has more than doubled  its poor population to about 200,000 people.

The Twin Cities metro area suburbs have one of the highest increases in poor populations in the country, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution , a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The growth reflects a national trend in which the majority of poor people are now living in suburbs. The study found population increases and unemployment after the 2008 recession to be major factors in the increase.

A family of four with an income of $23,550 or less  is considered below the poverty line, according to 2013 federal guidelines.

Most federal programs fighting poverty haven’t evolved to address the spread-out nature of suburban poverty , according to the study.

Tom Luce , a research director for the University of Minnesota Law School’s  Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity , said suburbs have outpaced metro poor populations for years, and the institute has written extensively on the changing suburban landscape.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Luce said.

The largest jump in Twin Cities suburban poverty was from 2008 to 2010 and has since slowed down, said Jane Tigan , a researcher for Minnesota Compass  and Wilder Research .

Despite the major increase in suburban poverty, the Twin Cities suburbs still have one of the lowest suburban poverty rates among major metropolitan areas in the country, with a rate of 7.6 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, almost one in four Twin Cities residents lives in poverty.

 “Many folks would be surprised by that number,” Tigan said. “That has also been on the rise since 1999.”

Luce said the high poverty level in the suburbs should be factored into the creation of new policies in the country, like encouraging increased affordable housing and providing more transportation and transit services in suburbs.

“How do people get around in places that aren’t built for pedestrians and transit users?” said Bill Lindeke , a University doctoral candidate. “A lot of these neighborhoods are very un-walkable.”

The geography graduate instructor said retrofitting suburbs, like putting in neighborhood sidewalks, would be an “immense challenge.”

“They were built very quickly, and not a lot of attention was paid to how they would age,” Lindeke said.

Public transportation choices are limited for suburban people who can’t afford cars but need to access medical care, food and jobs, said Rosemary Heins , a University Extension  educator.

Heins provides financial education in Anoka County, where she also works with the nonprofit Free To Be! , which provides car repairs and donated vehicles to needy residents.

“Maybe they’re not going to learn everything all at once, but if they can learn two or three things that can save a few dollars, that’s progress,” Heins said.

Although the Twin Cities have areas where jobs and groceries are scarce, Lindeke said there’s still access to resources that are more limited in suburbs.

Luce also said he’s concerned with how the new data could affect future policies in suburbs.

“You don’t want to allow suburbs to pursue policies that effectively zone poor people out,” he said.