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Poor immigrants leave L.A. area for suburbs elsewhere

August 5, 2011 |  8:03 am

The number of poor immigrants in Los Angeles and surrounding suburbs declined over the past decade, bucking a national trend and resulting in a "lower poverty rate," a new study has found.

These immigrants were moving out of the region to escape the high cost of living, according to research released Thursday by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

“The gist is the L.A. metro in general and the L.A. metro’s suburbs in particular lost poor people between 2000 and 2009, due to a loss of foreign-born poor,” said John Fairbanks, a Brookings spokesman.

The study defines the L.A. metropolitan area as taking in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana. In those cities, the poverty rate for the foreign-born dropped by 3.4 percentage points, from 20.4% in 2000 to 17% in 2009.  The poverty rate for native-born residents was 13.9% in 2000 and 13.6% in 2009, “essentially unchanged,” Fairbanks said.

For the L.A. metro suburban areas, the poverty rate for foreign-born residents in 2000 was 17.1%, and that dropped to 14.4% in 2009, a 2.7 percentage-point decrease. For native-born residents, the poverty rate was 10.9% both in 2000 and 2009.

The L.A. picture is strikingly different from the national one described by the study, which focused principally on comparing poverty among immigrants and non-immigrants in suburbs.

Indeed, the West was the only region where the poverty rate of suburban immigrants decreased between 2000 and 2009, the study found.  Atlanta saw the largest increase in its suburban immigrant poverty rate, 6.5 percentage points, while three large immigrant destinations -- McAllen, Texas; Los Angeles; and Riverside -- experienced decreases.

Overall, “the suburbanization of poverty is now a defining characteristic of the American metropolis,” the researchers wrote. “And it is accelerating.”

They noted that residents of a region’s anchor cities are still more likely to be poor than their suburban counterparts, but more poor people are now living in suburbs. A third (13.7 million) of the nation’s poor now reside in the suburbs of large metropolitan areas -- compared to 28% in the cities (12.1 million) and 40% in smaller metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas (17 million).

“Suburbs are no longer automatically places of economic advantage over cities, and yet they continue to serve as magnets for new populations, including the foreign-born,” the researchers concluded.

Among the nationwide findings:

-- Poverty rates in the suburbs have increased more sharply for the native-born than immigrants in most places.

-- Between 2000 and 2009, immigrants contributed more to the growth of the suburban poor population in the South than in other regions.

-- In Washington, D.C., immigrants accounted for 41% of the growth in the suburban poor population.

-- In the L.A. metro suburbs, 38.3% of the poor were foreign-born in 2009.

--The foreign-born poor in the suburbs are less educated, but more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts. Their jobs, however, tend to be low-paying, short-term and tenuous.

The study’s authors were USC professor Roberto Suro, Brookings analyst Jill H. Wilson and Brookings fellow Audrey Singer.

-- Howard Blume