Grand Rapids Metro Area Shows Highest Jump In Poverty Rates In US

Posted at 6:44 PM, May 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-21 18:44:22-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — New numbers are showing a huge rise in poverty rates in the Grand Rapids metro area.

The Brookings Institute says it is the highest jump of any metropolitan area in the country.

They have created a book based on their findings.

The organization monitors poverty across the country among other social issues.

In Grand Rapids, the Well House program serves as transitional housing for the homeless in the area and has seen some of the problems first-hand.

Larry Barnes is a resident there.

He was once homeless and living in shelters in Grand Rapids while battling double pneumonia and a painful nerve condition called spinal stenosis.

“It beats sleeping out on the streets, but it`s a long way from home,” said Barnes.

He found transitional housing with Well House, paying only $250.00 for rent.

He’s on his way to finding permanent housing through the program.

His experiences have shown him the poverty in West Michigan up close.

“It`s terrible, I bet you got 400 to 500 people in the downtown, area that`s homeless,” said Barnes.

The Brookings Institution findings show the number of people in poverty in the Grand Rapids area had risen more than any other metro hub in the country.

In 1970, the data shows the number of people below the poverty line was more than 47,000.  In 2011, it grew to more than 112,000.

The change in the number of poor since 2000 is upwards of 65% in Grand Rapids and more than 87% in the suburbs like Wyoming and Kentwood.

The executive director of Well House suspects higher income residents are moving downtown and cheaper housing options are leading lower-income residents away.

“The other shift you`ve seen is lower-income people moving to Kentwood or Wyoming partially because of the schools, said Tami VandenBerg, Executive Director Well House. “Then housing costs have been going down in that first ring, in the suburbs, where there`s older homes in Kentwood and Wyoming.”

The Brookings Institution cites other causes for the poverty shift to suburban areas, including job sprawl, shifts in affordable housing, population dynamics, immigration, and a struggling economy

The city of Wyoming’s Director of Community Service, Rebecca Rynbrandt, said census data shows that in 2000, the poverty level was 5.1%.  She said it increased to 12.4% from 2009 to 2011 according to American Community Survey Data.

Even though there is a sharp increase in poverty in the suburbs here in the Grand Rapids metro area, it`s still not as bad as in other metro areas, including Detroit.

Some of the driving forces for suburban poverty may have to do with the population shift in the city versus the suburbs.

There was a net loss in the metro area from 2000 to 2010 while the population grew in the suburbs.

Barnes said more services like Well House are needed to help those who are falling through the cracks.

“It makes me feel great, this place is like a safe, I feel safe here,” said Barnes.

To compare Grand Rapids with other cities on the Brookings poverty rate chart, check out the link below: