, Newburyport, MA


November 29, 2013

Our view: Poverty must be addressed as a regional problem

The number of people in poverty on Boston’s North Shore has increased by 20 percent over the last 10 years, according to Margo Casey of the North Shore United Way. Turning the tide will require a regional effort.

Much of the problem is centered in the region’s four cities, considered suburbs of the larger Boston metropolitan area. According to the latest Census department statistics, 71 percent of those in poverty in our North Shore communities live in Salem (25 percent), Beverly (17 percent), Peabody (16 percent) and Gloucester (13 percent). That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges elsewhere, as several local towns have also seen a rise in poverty rates.

The change, spurred by shifts in the job market, increased immigration and an uncertain housing market, reflects a nationwide trend. American suburbs now have a larger — and faster growing — poor population than big cities or rural areas. Those communities are often ill-equipped to deal with the new reality, and there is relatively little attention paid to the topic on a state or federal level.

“I don’t think we’re talking about poverty much any more,” Casey said last week.

Fortunately, there is a conversation taking place on the North Shore. Last week, the United Way, the North Shore Community Development Coalition and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council convened a forum on the issue. “Confronting Poverty on the North Shore” brought together local, state and national experts, ranging from researchers and authors to front-line workers in local anti-poverty agencies.

Most agreed on the challenges laid out by Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution, author of “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America”:

Limited transportation options for those in poverty make it difficult to find and keep decent jobs;

A “strained” local safety net limits how well local agencies can meet the needs of their citizens. The issue is compounded by “uneven” philanthropy, which makes it difficult to deal with current problems or needs or plan for the future;

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