Carlos Barria / Reuters

Infrastructure for poverty assistance in the suburbs can't keep up with increased demand

We know suburban poverty is on the rise, and as the Chicago Tribune reports, one effect of that trend has been a huge increase in demand for food assistance.

Suburban food banks around the Chicago area are reportedly running short on supplies as greater numbers of families are turning to aid groups for help. The Tribune looks specifically at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which serves 13 counties around Chicago. According to a hunger study [PDF] performed in 2010, the food bank has seen the number of people it serves rise 168 percent since 2006. The food bank served more than 500,000 people that year, 48 percent of whom were under 18. The food bank has even opened a new suburban branch in the last month to try to cope with demand.

Other branches are seeing similar increases, but food aid and government support aren’t able to keep up. Budget reductions for the federal emergency food assistance program coupled with rising costs at the Greater Chicago Food Depository will force some food pantries to cut their services by more than half next year, according to the Tribune.

Cuts of this sort could turn out to have devastating timing for struggling suburban families, whose ranks have risen 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. This compares to a 23 percent increase in cities. Northern Illinois saw its poverty rolls rise 42 percent between 2000 and 2007, according to the Northern Illinois Food Bank report. It’s highly likely that number has further increased since then.

So will suburban areas respond to their somewhat new situation of being poverty centers by beefing up services for their rising poor populations? Or will poor families bail out on their suburban dreams to find places – likely cities – that are better suited to provide the support they need? Or both?

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