A new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds that during the past decade, poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area has shifted toward the suburbs. The report examines data from the 2000 census and the 2005-2009 American Community Survey and finds that, like many U.S. metro areas, the Bay Area has experienced a rise in poverty rates overall (1.1 percentage points from 2000 to 2009), but the population in poverty has risen faster in suburban areas.The number of people living in poverty in the Bay Area rose 16 percent in the suburbs, compared with 7 percent in urban areas, this analysis finds. And the greatest percentage growth in suburban poverty was among blacks and Latinos. The percentage of the poor living in the suburbs has increased across all racial groups, but the change is highest among blacks, increasing by more than 7 percentage points from 2000 to 2009.
These trends mirror those nationwide. In addition to the overall economy, Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone at the Brookings Institution have pointed to trends like overall population growth, immigration, job decentralization, and shifts in the location of affordable and subsidized housing as reasons for the shift.
In the Bay Area the need for affordable housing particularly has been a driver of development patterns, as Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor describe in an early BRR working paper “Moving Up and Out? From Regions to Megaregions in Equity Strategies” (pdf).
A range of high-tech businesses, including Apple Computers, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, NEC, and a host of smaller firms, began opening operations in the Sacramento region in the 1990s. Sky-rocketing housing prices in the Bay Area led to dramatic growth in housing developments in the peripheral areas of the Bay, such as Vallejo, and the Tri-Valley area of Livermore/Pleasanton/Dublin, but also sprawling into Central Valley towns as far flung as Tracy and Stockton, as many Bay Area workers endured multi-hour commutes in exchange for more affordable living circumstances.
And during the past decade these demographic shifts have been especially dramatic in historically black cities in the Bay Area like Oakland, whose black population dropped by 23% from 2000 to 2010 as residents left for more affordable parts of the region – smaller cities in Contra Costa County like Antioch or farther away to Tracey or Stockton. These areas have seen a dramatic rise in their black populations since 2000.
An article in the Oakland Tribune from last year quotes Felicia Duncan, a single mom and real estate agent who moved from Oakland to suburban Antioch for a bigger more affordable house. “I had purchased a house, the kind of house I was able to get out there but I couldn’t get here for the price,” she said. However, Duncan found the commute and schooling options for her daughter difficult and eventually moved back. But not many do. The article also cited less crime, lower housing prices, job opportunities, better schools as possible reasons for the black population’s shift.
But perhaps the most disturbing trend in this report is the new evidence that poor populations in the Bay Area have less access to public transit than they did in 2000:
While the percent of people living within 0.5 miles of a rail station did not change significantly for the total population, it did decrease 1.5 percentage points for the poor population. Furthermore, the percentage of poor people living more than 4 miles from a rail station increased 3 percentage points.
As people move out to places like Antioch, they also move themselves away from rail lines, making it harder to reach their jobs without a car, which many of them don’t own. “This means that poor people living in suburban areas must either pay for a car or navigate an inefficient transit system, forfeiting a significant portion of their income or the opportunity cost of their time,” the report notes. And transit agencies in the Bay Area, like many other places, are facing serious budget constraints and will not be expanding any time soon.
This locational disadvantage is often compounded by the fact that these suburban areas often do not have the social service infrastructure or organizational resources to meet the needs of their growing numbers of poor residents.
BRR member Margaret Weir, whose work examines the effect of this suburbanization of poverty and the thinning social safety net, has said that this kind of isolation—being far from jobs and public transit combined with a lack of clinics or job training programs, for example—can cause what she calls “extrusion,” making poverty even deeper and less visible.
The Federal Reserve report argues that meeting the challenges of suburbanization of poverty in the Bay Area may require more regional collaboration to meet these new challenges:
High poverty that is concentrated within an urban core becomes the responsibility of one city, but dispersed poverty requires the coordination of multiple municipalities and their respective planning departments, human services agencies, and housing agencies. In order to better coordinate job training, social services, and benefits distribution, state agencies could incentivize collaboration among local agencies from different jurisdictions. This is already happening between workforce development programs, and the increased dispersal of poor people underscores the need for enhanced collaboration.
Additionally, they say, regions need support from funders for transit planning to make sure social services, housing, and job raining are centered near transit lines to make them accessible to all.
The Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund provides one such model. The fund has given $50 million in financing for affordable housing and other community services located near transit stations.
You can download the full report here.
Photo by Thomas Hawk.