Four facts about suburban poverty King County, WA


Concept for transit-oriented development that would provide opportunity and address poverty in Tukwila, WA. Source: Congress for the New Urbanism Legacy Project


Even as cities experience new prosperity, poverty is growing in suburbs. That’s one of the findings highlighted in a recent report from the Congress for the New Urbanism, in partnership with King County GreenTools and the Bullitt Foundation.

The report, Combating the Suburbanization of Poverty, is full of information about poverty trends and remedies in suburban areas of King County, Washington, as well as elsewhere in the United States. Here are four facts about suburban poverty that you should know.

Poverty is growing faster in suburbs than in cities. In the Puget Sound region, for examples, the poverty rate grew 29 percent between 2005 and 2015, more than double the growth rate of Seattle. 

The number of suburban residents in poverty is increasing in most regions. The Brookings Institution has found that in 90 out of 97 metropolitan regions, the number of suburban residents living in poverty increased from 2000 to 2015. In about two-thirds of metropolitan areas, suburbs are home to the majority of people in poverty. This is certainly true in King County, where 70 percent of the county’s struggling residents live outside the major cities.

The distance and hidden costs of transportation hit impoverished residents hardest. In King County, for example, families earning $33,000 paid 49 percent of their wages for housing and utilities, plus another 26 percent for transportation.

Spatial mismatch, where jobs and housing are spread far apart and not served well by transit, creates a “poverty trap” in the suburbs. In King County, two-thirds of the population drives, making many trips that could be served by transit or other modes if these were available. Only one in four people live within a half-mile of high-frequency transit. This forces residents to purchase and maintain a car, adding expense to already burdened budgets.

Combating the Suburbanization of Poverty contains specific suggestions for addressing King County’s suburban poverty and transportation challenges, including implementing its new Sound Transit 3 public transportation initiative with an awareness of the county’s most challenged residents; putting funds in place for equitable transit-oriented development near new transit stops; modifying suburban codes to make it easier to develop walkable, bikeable, and complete streets; and confronting the forces of gentrification with tools to make sure new development benefits all residents.

Download the report here.