Poverty has increased in the nation’s close-in suburbs over the past decade and Evanston has shared in that trend.

A study released Wednesday by The Brookings Institution identifies 64 counties it calls First Suburbs — areas that developed after the center cities, before or during the rapid suburban expansion that followed World War II.

The study says those suburbs, which are home to almost a fifth of all Americans, face challenges –- including growing poverty — that threaten their stability.

Poverty has declined in many center cities. For example, an Evanston Now analysis of census data shows the number of Chicago residents with poverty-level incomes dropped 2 percentage points, from 21.6 percent to 19.6 percent, between 1990 and 2000.

But the poverty level has risen 1.1 percentage points in suburban Cook County, from 5.3 percent to 6.4 percent, over the same period.

The poverty rate in Evanston rose 1.2 percentage points, from 9.8 percent to 11 percent, during that time.

By contrast, newer, more rapidly growing suburbs further away from the center cities are showing dramatic decreases in poverty levels.

A Chicago Tribune analysis of census data shows that the greatest increases in poverty among Chicago’s close-in suburbs are concentrated in western suburbs near O’Hare Airport and in south suburban communities. For example, poverty went up 12.3 percentage points in south-suburban Dixmoor and 8.8 percentage points in west-suburban Rosemont.

North suburban communities had poverty increases less than 3 percentage points, and a few, including Morton Grove, Northfield and Winnetka, showed a decline in their poverty rates, according to the Tribune.

The Brookings study says that nationwide First Suburbs are undergoing rapid racial and ethnic change. Twenty years ago they were far less racially diverse than the nation, but now they are more diverse than the country as a whole. However, many First Suburbs in the Midwest have remained largely white.

In suburban Cook County the Hispanic population more than doubled, to 12.8 percent between 1990 and 2000, while the Hispanic population in Chicago rose by a third to 26 percent.

Evanston’s Hispanic population doubled as well, but was still comparatively small in 2000 at 6.2 percent.

During the same decade the black population of Evanston remained essentially unchanged at a little over 22 percent, while it dropped 2.4 percentage points in Chicago to 36.6 percent and rose in suburban Cook County by 3.9 percentage points to 13.7 percent.

The Brookings study also reports that First Suburbs, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, are becoming home to an increasing proportion of elderly residents as younger people leave to chase stronger job prospects in the south and west.

That trend is only marginally evident in Cook County, where the share of the population 65 and older grew just 0.3 percentage points between 1990 and 2000 to 13.4 percent. The percentage of Chicago’s population in that age group declined 1.5 percentage points to 10.3 percent during that period, and the share of Evanston’s population that age fell 1.6 percentage points to 10.8 percent.

Related Link:
New York Times – ‘First’ Suburbs Growing Older and Poorer, Report Warns

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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