08/07/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Aug 08, 2013

Report Finds Republican Congressional Districts Saw Bigger Increase In Suburban Poverty


Suburban poverty has increased in more Republican congressional districts than Democratic ones, a new report said.

According to a Brookings Institution paper released Tuesday, Democrats represent a slightly higher number of congressional districts with impoverished suburbs than Republicans do. But poverty has increased in more districts represented by Republicans than districts represented by Democrats, the think tank found.

Since 2000, 93 percent of GOP districts saw an increase the number of suburban residents in poverty, compared to 83 percent of Democratic districts. Of the 10 districts with the fastest-growing suburban poverty rates, seven were represented by Republicans.

Of course, the report noted that the rise in poverty rates in suburban communities "reflected broader regional economic struggles, rather than partisan affiliation." Not that Congress is about to do something about it, Brookings wrote.

"Unfortunately, poverty -- suburban or otherwise -- isn’t very high up the congressional agenda right now," the report's authors wrote. "Perhaps that reflects, at least in part, a misunderstanding of the partisan character of poverty."

Districts with housing markets that were decimated by the burst of the subprime mortgage bubble took an especially hard hit, the report found. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, represents a district in the Charlotte area that saw a 663 percent increase in suburban poverty during the 2000s -- the largest per capita increase in any district. Critics on the right have attacked Watt since his nomination for pushing, they say, to give federally subsidized loans to unqualified borrowers in the early 2000s.

Other representatives whose districts have seen monumental increases in poverty include Bill Flores (R-Tex.), who represents Waco and parts of suburban Dallas-Fort Worth; and John Abney Culberson (R-Tex.), who represents Houston's western suburbs. They've seen a 407 percent and 229 percent increase in suburban poor populations in their districts, respectively, according to the Brookings report.

The report complements a recent Brookings book about suburban poverty that found that low-wage jobs are supplanting the middle-income employment that made suburban communities prosperous.

"The jobs that are growing fastest are jobs that don't pay very high wages," Elizabeth Kneebone, a co-author of the Brookings book, told The Huffington Post in April. "Lower-wage jobs are among the most suburbanized."

In 2010, another Brookings study found that suburban poverty had increased 37.4 percent since 2000. The gross number of impoverished Americans in the suburbs exceeded poor people in urban areas by 1.6 million, the 2010 report said.

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