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Austin: Second Fastest Growing City for Suburban Poverty

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

Austin is growing – and so is the area’s low income population.

Over the last decade or so, the number of people living in poverty in Austin grew by 77 percent. But the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs grew by more than 140 percent. These numbers made Austin the second-largest percentage increase among big cities across the U.S.

In the Brookings Institution book "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,"  authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube find that not only is suburban poverty growing, but that suburbs often lack the services and program that could provide a way out of poverty.

Lead author Elizabeth Kneebone says the problem is that while the geography of poverty is changing, perception and policy haven't kept up. "Suburbs are increasingly facing the same kinds of challenges and growing need. And often don’t have the resources and infrastructure in place to deal with these challenges in the way that cities may have been able to build up over decades," she says.

In Austin, where metrics find that the poor population has increased from 42,578 in 2000 to 103,248 in 2011, Kneebone says part of the problem is access to transit. "In the Austin region, just under half of residents living in lower income suburban communities have access to transit in the first place. And for those that could get on a bus or access public transit, that transit would only get them to about 12 percent of the region's jobs in a 90 minute commute," Kneebone says.

Cities, the authors say, have a longer history of addressing poverty and therefore often have more infrastructure in place to provide services to the poor. Kneebone says she isn't suggesting that those services move from urban areas, but that suburbs enter the policy conversation. 

"The responses to effectively addressing this need to cross jurisdictional lines, be regional in scope, and think about how to address all the variety of policy issues that intersect with policy," she says.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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