LAS VEGAS -- While the Las Vegas metropolitan area in the last decade experienced more rapid growth in its suburbs than in its urban core, the percentage of residents living in poverty likewise increased faster in the suburbs than elsewhere.
In a study issued Sunday evening, the Brookings Institution think tank reported that for the years 2000 through 2011 there was a 139.3 percent increase in suburban poverty in Las Vegas versus a 101.7 percent increase in urban areas.
By comparison, the authors of "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America" found that suburban poverty nationwide grew by 64 percent over the past decade, meaning the increase in Las Vegas suburbs more than doubled the U.S. rate.
"When people think of poverty in America, they tend to think of inner city neighborhoods or isolated rural communities, but today, suburbs are home to the largest and fastest growing poor population in the country," co-author Elizabeth Kneebone said. "Poverty is touching more people and places than before, challenging outdated notions of where poverty is and who it affects."
The report found that the overall poverty rate as of 2011 was still higher in urban Las Vegas at 19.4 percent than in the suburbs at 15.8 percent.
But from 2005 through 2010, the suburbs registered an 18.7 percent increase in students receiving free and reduced-price school lunches versus a 16.9 percent increase in the urban core. Brookings also found that while 96.6 percent of low-income suburban residents have access to public transportation, only 57.5 percent can reach their jobs within 90 minutes using such transit.
The Census Bureau defined poverty thresholds last year as $11,945 for a single adult under age 65, $11,011 for an individual 65 and older, $15,374 for a couple under age 65, $13,878 for a couple 65 and older, and $23,283 for a family of four with two children under age 18.
Brookings reported that the number of poor people living in Las Vegas jumped from 23,669 in 1970 to 327,962 in 2011. The think tank, based in Washington, D.C., also found that the number of unemployed residents in Las Vegas suburbs climbed from 34,957 in December 2007 to 99,695 in December 2010.
Kneebone and co-author Alan Berube said the increase in suburban poverty is not a temporary shift caused by the last recession, but rather the result of decades of change and growth. They said poverty is rising in the suburbs due to shifts in jobs and wages, population growth and immigration, collapse of the housing market and the foreclosure crisis.
"We cannot risk recreating the same problems of entrenched concentrated poverty in suburbs that we have battled for decades to reverse in cities," Berube said. "The suburbanization of poverty is a wake-up call. When it comes to anti-poverty efforts, we have a blank slate in most of suburbia and a new chance to get this right."
The authors recommended that Congress create a competitive grant program that would allow states to develop metropolitan-led strategies to improve low-income families' access to education, housing, jobs and transportation.