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Study: Poverty In San Diego Suburbs Increasing

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Poverty in San Diego is not confined to the urban core of the city. New research from National University found concentrated pockets of poverty have increased in suburban neighborhoods.

Poverty in San Diego is not confined to the urban core of the city. New research from National University System Institute for Policy Research found concentrated pockets of poverty have increased in suburban neighborhoods around the county.

The percentage of San Diego County residents living in poor neighborhoods has jumped by more than 10 percent in the last 16 years, according to the policy brief.

Researchers used U.S. Census data and found the poverty rate in El Cajon increased nine percent to 25.8 percent between 2000 and 2014. During the same time period, the poverty rate in Escondido increased 6.4 percent to nearly 20 percent. In Carlsbad, the rate in 2000 was just under six percent and by 2014 more than 10 percent of the population fell below the poverty line.

Erik Bruvold, the president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research and the author of the policy brief, told KPBS's Maureen Cavanaugh the study focussed on "concentrated poverty."

Bruvold said "highly" concentrated poverty is defined as, "the number of people below the poverty line who live in neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of their neighbors also live below the poverty line."

The study also looked at "extremely" concentrated poverty, in which 40 percent of residents or more within a neighborhood are below the federal poverty line.

Concentrated poverty exists within cities often considered more wealthy than San Diego's urban core, Bruvold said. The great recession did lead to an increase in poverty in these areas, but Bruvold said today's poverty rates are better explained by current income inequality throughout the county.

"This isn't necessarily a story about people being laid off," Bruvold said. "In fact, labor participation rates in these neighborhoods is about the same as it is throughout the county. So this is really a story not about unemployment, but rather low-wage work in our county."

Murtaza Baxamusa, secretary-treasurer of the Middle-Class Taxpayers Association in San Diego, told KPBS Midday Edition that his research has led to similar findings about concentrated poverty in San Diego county. He argued one way to reduce poverty rates in these neighborhoods would be to raise the minimum wage.

"Even a $1 increase in the minimum wage for these workers would result in a $200 million in economic impact in the county," Baxamusa said.

Bruvold said improving public transit in poor areas far from the urban core could also make a dent in concentrated poverty rates.

"To the extent to which we don't have good transportation infrastructure — especially mass transit infrastructure — into those communities, we're burdening families and asking them to pay for commuting in cars and additional childcare expenses," said Bruvold.

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