Beyond the Sun
Newly released numbers from the Brookings Institution reflect what you probably sensed: Poverty rates intensified throughout the Las Vegas metropolitan area between 2000 and 2009.
The jump mirrored a nationwide trend: more people are living in neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, according to a newly released analysis of 100 U.S. metropolitan areas conducted by Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program.
A decade ago, there was one such neighborhood in Las Vegas with about 3,500 residents. Two years ago, there were seven such neighborhoods with about 36,000 people.
The figures were drawn from a Brookings study of U.S. Census tracts, and the total number of Las Vegans living in such neighborhoods may be larger today, said Alan Berube, a senior fellow at Brookings and a co-author of the report. The analysis excluded census tracts in Henderson and North Las Vegas.
“There was a veritable explosion of very high poverty neighborhoods (nationally), most of it in the urban core,” Berube said. “I think it certainly took off at the back end of the decade but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t there in ’05, ’06 (when) the economy was humming along, but it was also humming along with low-wage jobs.”
Nationally, the percentage of the U.S. population living within such “extreme poverty neighborhoods,” where the typical family of four earns less than $22,350 annually, jumped by one-third between 2000 and 2009, according to Brookings.
Analysis of Census data typically lags two years behind because it takes that long for the numbers to be released.
“Extreme poverty neighborhoods grew in cities and suburbs alike during the 2000s, though the phenomenon remained a majority urban one,” read the report. “In 2005-09, cities contained over two-thirds of extreme poverty tracts within the nation’s largest 100 metro areas, and had a concentrated poverty rate of 20 percent, more than four times higher than suburbs.”
Brookings also found that just as suburbs outpaced cities for growth in the poor population as a whole over the decade, the number of poor living in extreme poverty neighborhoods in suburban communities grew by 54 percent, compared with 18 percent in cities. The poor population living in these suburban neighborhoods rose by 41 percent — more than twice as fast as the 17 percent growth in cities. Bottom line: Though cities still remained better off on these measures in 2005-09 than in 1990, suburbs had surpassed 1990 levels on almost every count.
The numbers were no surprise to Sue Steaffens, who oversees the distribution of federal dollars that help feed hungry students within the Clark County School District. Applications for free-and-reduced-cost lunches have exploded within the 308,000-student district amid the economic collapse. Schools with the greatest demand for the federally subsidized meals are found along Maryland Parkway, East Sahara Avenue, East Charleston Boulevard and in West Las Vegas, but no ZIP codes are immune to the need.
“Now we’re seeing it everywhere,” Steaffens said. “Schools that were used to being high are even higher for the number of participants. You get some of these other schools that are in Green Valley and Summerlin, they’re just not used to participating in the program.”