City centers around the country are becoming younger, more affluent and more educated, while inner suburbs are seeing poverty rates rise, according to a new study from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
The new study is based on an analysis of demographic changes in 66 cities between 1990 and 2012. It comes just months after a surge of headlines about suburban poverty following a Brookings Institution study that found that more Americans are now living in poverty in the suburbs than in rural or urban areas.
News of this demographic shift comes as no surprise to suburban school superintendents and school boards. They know their student populations are shifting, and they are wrestling with how to adequately serve the rising number of poor children who come to class with far more needs than their more affluent peers.
The map below, from U-Va.’s report, shows how poverty has shifted in and around Charlotte:
The graph below, also from the new U-Va. report, shows how the poverty pattern has changed over time in the Washington area. In 1990, the poverty rate was highest in the center of the District, and it fell as you traveled farther into the suburbs. In 2012, however, poverty was lower in the city center but spiked in the inner suburbs, four to five miles out, before dropping again in the outer suburbs and exurbs.
That change means that the number of low-income children are rising in traditionally affluent and high-performing school systems. Schools in Montgomery County, which has a reputation as a tony suburb of the nation’s capital, have seen the rate of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals — a rough proxy for poverty — rise from 29 to 35 percent just since 2009. Across the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, the share of students receiving free and reduced-price meals in Fairfax County Public Schools has risen from 19 percent in 2005 to 28 percent this year.
In Fairfax, the demographic changes appear most starkly in the lower grades. In 2013-2014, more than one-third of the county’s 13,424 kindergarteners qualified for free or reduced meals. In October 2012, the county saw among the highest ever recorded totals of homeless students, with more than 1,336 such children enrolled in the district by the second month of the school year — nearly 400 percent higher than the school system’s homeless population in 1996.
“There are additional costs associated with these changes that will continue to challenge our budgeting in the years ahead,” Fairfax Superintendent Karen Garza told The Post in 2014. “We view these demographic shifts and our growing diversity as a strength that we will continue to celebrate.”