Report Shows that DC’s Suburbs are Getting Poorer

by Will Smith

Suburbs across America are getting poorer, according to a report published today by The Brookings Institution, and that includes some of the areas surrounding DC.

The report stated that the poor in the nation’s leading metropolitan areas grew 25 percent between 2000 and 2008. That increase outpaced growth of the poor in the cities themselves, in smaller cities, and in rural areas.


“By 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall,” quotes The Wall Street Journal in its coverage of the report. This is particularly striking given that it doesn’t include 2009, when the recession really started taking a toll.

The report’s findings recall a widely-read piece in The Atlantic from March 2008. In The Next Slum? author Christopher Leinberger wonders whether the gentrification of America’s cities will be followed by the impoverishment of its suburbs. From the article:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

The DC metropolitan area could serve as Exhibit A of Leinberger’s argument. Readers of UrbanTurf know well that one-time rough and downtrodden neighborhoods in DC proper such as Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and U Street are today among the region’s most robust real estate markets. Meanwhile, the exurban markets of Prince William and Loudoun Counties in Virginia were hammered by foreclosures in 2007 and 2008 (though they have now stabilized). Prince George’s County in Maryland was just predicted to be the 12th worst housing market in 2010.

The Brookings report had this to say about the DC metropolitan area:

In 2008, 32.5 percent of poor individuals across the metro area lived in the primary city compared to 67.5 percent in the suburbs. Compared to 2000, this is a significant increase in the suburban share of the metro area’s poor.

What do you think? Will the farther-out areas of Virginia and Maryland see a decline over the next few decades? Let us know your predictions in the comments.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/report_shows_that_Americas_suburbs_are_getting_poorer/1697


  1. mj said at 12:30 am on Thursday January 21, 2010:

    completely agree! i grew up in md and when my parents purchased their house the HS i was to go to was considered the HS of the decade for MD. by the time i was to go there our neighborhood decayed and mostly people from pg and dc moved in, where as the middle and upper middle class moved further out away form the city. now my parents neighborhood is full of crime and gang/drug activity. it is pretty much the same as here in col heights where i have moved to, minus the projects.

  1. Anonymous said at 2:08 am on Thursday January 21, 2010:

    The many reasons why people are returning to central city cores has been well documented. But among these proximity to place of employment and access to reliable, efficient transportation usually rank near the top.

    Our most vibrant, thriving areas in metropolitan Washington—Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Tysons Corner, Reston, and, of course, the District—are alike in that are all major centers of employment and are (or soon will be) transportation hubs. These twin pillars—job proximity and access to transportation—are the emerging keys to ensuring a healthy residential real estate market.

    So, to follow this logic, it can be assumed that much of Northern Virginia will likely prosper in the foreseeable future—that is, for the next 20 or 30 years or so. Considerable commercial development in the vicinity of Dulles International Airport and along the 267 corridor into Tysons is to be expected, all the more so because of WMATA’s soon-to-arrive Silver Line. As such, Loudoun and northern Prince William, though currently struggling to some extent, should be okay. Arlington and Alexandria, although pricey for some buyers, are safe bets as well.

    If steady employment growth continues in the District, and there is little evidence that suggests otherwise, upward pressure on real estate values can be expected. The Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Rockville markets look promising as well. NIH and the National Naval Medical Center are expanding, and downtown Bethesda remains an attractive location for high-end commercial development. There are, of course, many other areas both in Maryland and Virginia that will do just fine as well.

    In outlying areas, however, where commutes of 45 minutes or longer are standard to major employment centers, residential values could very well stagnate as demand pressure lessens. The era of long-distance commuting and the never ending shuttling of kids from place to place is fading. There will always be distance commuters, but the change underway is that more of them will be income earners at a lower tier than their predecessors. Higher-income buyers are now looking to purchase homes near their job locations. This leaves the further-out areas to those who can’t afford the more desirable close-in locations. Only now is this trend manifesting itself; in 20 years it will be a widely acknowledged truism.

  1. HomeEconomics said at 2:21 pm on Thursday January 21, 2010:

    “The many reasons why people are returning to central city cores has been well documented. But among these proximity to place of employment and access to reliable, efficient transportation usually rank near the top.”

    There are only two reasons and they are gentrification and the end of white flight to the suburbs. They go hand in hand and government(s) have been supportive of both by spending public money to expand/develop specific areas.

    Migration of urban areas has grown into a cyclical trend.

    1. “good money chases out bad money”
    2. public investment follows good money
    3. trendy singles/couples follow public investment
    4. trendy couples become middle-class families, middle-class families follow trend
    5. “good money” cashes out
    6. public investment follows good money out
    7. “bad money chases after good money”
    8. “bad money” and middle-class families are left holding the bag

    Rinse and repeat. I’d say the inner-cities are in phase 3 while the suburbs are stuck in phase 8 for the foreseeable future.

  1. Rick Bosl said at 5:02 pm on Thursday January 21, 2010:

    This does seem to be the trend. Arlington, Alexandria etc offer so much that areas further out simply can’t compete.

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