Las Vegas sees rise in suburban poverty

It’s seen every day throughout Las Vegas.

Now it’s creeping into the suburbs.


The Las Vegas metropolitan area was ranked among the 100 largest in the nation for levels of suburban poverty, according to data released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

“We see it every day,” said Brian Burton, president and chief executive officer at the nonprofit Three Square Food Bank.

The data was collected for a book titled, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” and shows that poverty in the nation’s suburbs is growing faster than anywhere else in the country. Over the last decade, suburban poverty increased 64 percent.

In 2011, 3 million more poor people were living in the suburbs of the country’s major metropolitan areas than in the big cities, according to the new data. Las Vegas reflected that trend, and in 2011 had a 19.4 percent city poverty rate and a 15.8 percent suburban poverty rate.

Officials at local nonprofits that help feed the poor say they have seen the change, and it happened before the economic downturn in 2008.

“It has changed dramatically,” Burton said.

He said people who used to own businesses suddenly started showing up at Three Square seeking services. Two years ago, his organization conducted a food insecurity, or hunger, survey by zip code.

The population of a Summerlin zip code — 89138 — showed 14.7 percent of people were living with food in­security. Other zip codes in Henderson also had double-digit percentages.

“I met one person who had 50 people working for his computer business, and he lost everything,” Burton said. “And it was a whole new universe for him. He was dazed, he was lost.”

Burton’s organization is designed to help the chronically poor, but it now also serves those who used to be solidly middle class.

“You have this SUV and it’s paid for, but you are having problems in providing food,” he said.

Leslie Carmine, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, said it has seen a similar trend.

“We had people who once were donors, where they gave to us, and now they are standing in line for help,” she said.

Households have increased in size because other family members are moving in, Carmine said.

“There’s three generations that the household now has to provide for,” she said.

Food pantry managers with Catholic Charities have particularly seen an increase in men seeking help and also in people coming from other states who need assistance, Carmine said. The nonprofit distributes 150 to 200 grocery bags a day.

Alan Berube, who co-authored “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” said research showed a series of contributing factors to the new phenomenon. Suburbs are growing faster, and part of that growth includes more low-income people.

The economic recession was another factor, he said. Some of the communities affected most were areas of new housing. Immigration also played a role.

“A lot more people are coming,” he said. “They used to go to the cities, and now they are going to the suburban communities, especially the older ones that have more affordable housing.”

Las Vegas also was one of the fastest growing areas in the nation in 2000, but a few years later it became the epicenter of housing foreclosures, Berube said.

He hopes the research will help change the way people think about where poverty happens and how they choose to address the issue.

“It’s not a city challenge. It’s not a suburb challenge, but it’s a regional challenge,” Berube said.

He hopes organizations will take a regional approach as opposed to looking at individual neighborhoods.

Burton’s organization might be on track to doing just that. Last month, Three Square received a $75,000 grant from Wells Fargo to place new distribution points in 14 underserved zip codes, Burton said.

“Almost all of them are in suburban areas,” he said.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at or 702-383-0440.