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Child Poverty Growing In Suburbs

September 27, 1994

BOSTON (AP) _ The number of children living in poverty is going up faster in suburbia, once a world of prosperity and promise, than it is in big cities or rural areas, researchers say.

For the population as a whole, the proportion of children living below the poverty line rose 49 percent from 1973 to 1992, say researchers at the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, who examined Census Bureau data.

In rural areas, the share of children in poverty grew 36 percent, and in the inner city, 56 percent, they said. But in the suburbs, the increase was 76 percent.

″There’s been a wholesale transformation of the American economy,″ Tufts researcher J. Larry Brown said. ″Half of our families are experiencing declining wages, and the other half are those who have always been struggling near poverty.″

Brown and co-author John T. Cook cited three reasons for the increase in poverty among children in the suburbs: declining real wages; families moving from inner cities to suburbs; and larger suburbs, extending out into what previously had been rural areas.

In 1973, about 8 percent of suburban children were members of families below the poverty line, defined then as $4,540 for a family of four. In 1992, when the poverty line had risen to $15,355 for a family of four, that had risen to 13.8 percent.

The poverty rate overall is higher for children than adults, according to census figures. In the United States, 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, but 25 percent of children are poor. In suburbs, 9.7 percent of people are poor, compared with 13.8 percent of the children.

″Children are just bad off in our country. It could be single-parent households, it could be lower wages over time,″ said Kathleen Short, chief of the poverty and wealth statistics branch of the Census Bureau.

Arloc Sherman, a researcher at the Children’s Defense Fund, cautioned that the increase in poverty among suburban children was not caused by more minorities moving out from the inner city. Of poor suburban children in 1992, 70 percent were white, he said.

″The broader message,″ Sherman said, ″is there is child poverty everywhere in this country, and yet one more group we thought was safe from child poverty is not, if it ever was.″

Poverty seems to have reached even well-to-do suburbs.

Concord, a Boston suburb of 17,000, has a town trust that provides money for struggling families. Trust administer Peg Purcell said that over the past six years she has been given more aid to single mothers.

″These are people who maybe have a nice home in town and all of a sudden, there’s only one income,″ she said.

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