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States Tackle ‘Aging Out’ Of Foster Care

By Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Two and a half years ago, Jazmin Favela ran away from a troubled home life. She took off without a change of clothes, crashing wherever she could. When her picture started showing up on “missing” posters in her California town, she figured she’d better turn herself in. And that, she said, is how she entered the foster care system.

Now, at 18, Jazmin is living semi-autonomously in a foster home, taking care of her 2-month-old baby and attending community college part-time. She has dreams of becoming a preschool teacher and majoring in psychology. To make those dreams a reality, she said, her best option is to stay in the foster care system until she turns 21.

“I’m going to stay and receive those services,” Jazmin said. “It’s going to be easier for me to get on my feet. If I just jump straight out on my own with my daughter, it’ll be hard. I won’t be able to support her financially.”

A few years ago, Jazmin wouldn’t have had that option. With a few exceptions, foster youth traditionally aged out of the system at 18, with no backup services to ease them into adulthood. More often than not, it made for an abrupt transition for youth without a parental safety net. But thanks to the Foster Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCA), a federal law enacted in 2008, states can now extend foster care benefits to youth up to age 21 and receive federal funding for it.

So far, 21 states have expanded benefits with federal support to youth up to age 21, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Indiana has extended foster care up to age 20. Florida, Wisconsin, and Delaware have opted out of federal funding, but have their own programs using state dollars.

States have a vested interest in providing care to the approximately 26,000 foster kids who age out of the system each year. Research shows that young adults without a permanent family fare far worse than other youth. More than one in four ends up homeless after age 18, while one in four becomes involved in the justice system within two years of leaving foster care. Fifty-eight percent of foster youth will graduate high school by age 19, compared with 87 percent of all 19-year-olds.

Less than two percent will graduate college by age 25. Seventy-one percent of young women become pregnant before they reach 21, according to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a St. Louis-based foundation. Each cohort of young people leaving foster care costs society an additional $8 billion in welfare, Medicaid, lost wages, and incarceration costs compared to people of the same age who were not in foster care, according to the Jim Casey initiative.

States still are working on programs, but the federal law includes certain requirements for staying in foster care past age 18. Young adults who do so must be completing high school or in GED program; be enrolled part-time or full-time in a university or college or vocational school; participating in a job training program; employed at least 80 hours a month or have a documented medical condition that prevents them from working or attending school. States that receive federal money are required to track the progress of each foster youth receiving services or pay a penalty.

It’s too soon to measure the success of extended foster care. State efforts are “a work in progress,” according to Amy Dworsky, a research fellow at Chapin Hall, a research and policy center at the University of Chicago that focuses on child welfare issues.

But indications are investing in extended foster care can have good results.

For nearly 30 years, older youth in Illinois had the option of remaining in foster care, years before other states picked up on the trend, with the state paying for it. (New York and the District of Columbia were the next in line to implement some form of extended care.)

In 2002, Dworsky and other researchers at Chapin Hall began tracking the outcome of kids with extended care in Illinois versus those who didn’t have it Iowa and Wisconsin. The study, dubbed the “Midwest Study,” found that foster youth who stayed in the system until age 21 had much better outcomes and were twice as likely to pursue post-secondary school education.

As a result of that research, advocates began a national push to expand services to kids coming of age without a permanent family, according to Hope Cooper, a consultant who worked on the federal legislation effort. Although the FCA passed in 2008, states couldn’t take advantage of the federal funding until 2010. Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Washington state, Delaware, California, the District of Columbia, Alabama, Alaska, and Illinois were the first to sign up for the program, according to the NCSL.

Adopting an extended care model can be complicated for states. In most instances, it involves a two-step process. First, states pass legislation extending foster care. Then they have to submit a plan for approval to the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States have the flexibility to craft plans tailored to their populations. The key, child advocates say, is taking into account that caring for an 18-year-old is very different from taking care of an infant.

“You almost need to build a second foster care system,” Dworsky said. “This is a system that has to serve kids that are pregnant, kids that want to live alone, and they have to voluntarily join (or stay in) foster care. It’s almost a parallel foster care system.”

Some states, such as California, built flexibility into the system, providing foster youth with new housing options, according to Jennifer Rodriguez, a former foster care recipient turned attorney and executive director of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Foster youth can live with a host family, in an apartment with a supervising adult, or live alone in dormitories or an apartment with regular supervision from a case worker.

“We’ve really seen youth take advantage of the opportunity to stay in care, to get continued resources, to make the transition to adulthood a little smoother,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve offered a lot of young people stability in that period of young adulthood when you realize, ‘This is what it’s like to be on my own.’ Developmentally, it’s the equivalent of going from toddler to preschool.”

Young people from foster care face the same issues many young adults face. And without help from a parental figure in trying to find a place to live, getting into or staying in college, or buying a car, their lives can unravel quickly.

“It creates a high level of anxiety,” said Celeste Bodner, executive director of Foster Club, a network and resource center for foster youth. “A lot of young people in foster care suffer from sleep issues, anxiety, a lot of stomach issues, stuff that needs medical attention. It’s very clearly linked with traveling to adulthood without a safety net.”

Because of California’s extended foster care system, Paige Moore Drew now has a safety net that will take her through college.

Paige has been in the foster care system since she was 11, jumping from foster home to foster home. In high school, Paige decided that college was going to be her “ticket out of there.”

Thanks to the Guardian Scholars Program, an extensive support program for college-bound foster youth, Paige, now 20, is a sophomore at Sacramento State University, working part time and living in an apartment with her boyfriend and dog. In addition, she receives a stipend of $838 each month from the state of California. She checks in weekly with an assigned mentor.

“I knew if I stayed in foster care, I would get a lot of services,” Paige said. “If I were alone, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Photo: CSUF Photos via Flickr

Q & A: How The Great Recession Affected Children

By Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Five years after the Great Recession ended, many Americans are still reeling from its effects. Perhaps no group was harmed more by the downturn than children.

Roughly two million more children live in poverty today than at the start of the recession, according to a new study by First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy group, and PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The study analyzes four areas affecting children’s well-being: health, hunger, housing, abuse, and neglect. In most ways, children are worse off than they were in 2007, the beginning of the economic contraction. As of 2013, for example, 14.7 million children were living in poverty, compared with 12.8 million at the start of the recession.

Q: In which area were children hit hardest by the recession?

A: Food security. As of 2013, 15.7 million children lived in households where at least one family member didn’t get enough to eat on a regular basis. That’s 3.3 million more than at the onset of the recession. But the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal government’s largest anti-hunger program (commonly known as food stamps), helped ease the situation. The number of SNAP beneficiaries rose by 21 million between 2007 and 2013 to 46.5 million, resulting in about one in three kids receiving some form of nutrition assistance.

Still, it’s difficult to tell if SNAP and other food assistance programs are meeting the needs of impoverished families. The study also found that many states tightened eligibility standards for food assistance. During the recession, SNAP was enhanced with federal stimulus funding, but that money has dried up.

“Food insecurity increased dramatically,” said Rachel Meadows, a communications and policy associate with PolicyLab. “It showed us a lot of families were really struggling even technically after the Great Recession had ended.”

Q: How did foreclosures affect children?

A: More than two million children lost their homes as a result of foreclosures, and up to six million children continue to be at risk of losing them. According to the latest data, 46 percent of all households with children in 2011 faced issues of housing affordability, physically inadequate housing, or overcrowding. In 2012, 40.9 million households — more than a third of U.S. households — were considered “cost burdened” because they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The study found that more than 1.6 million children were homeless during each year of the recession, and 40 percent of those kids were under age six. The report also found that the supply of affordable housing is inadequate to meet demand. But federal data are conflicting. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that rates of homelessness are going down. But the U.S. Department of Education reports that for kids, particularly students, the number is increasing.

Q: Did children experience more abuse and neglect during the recession?

A: The data are mixed. Federal statistics suggests overall rates of child abuse decreased during the recession. But rates of reported neglect increased 21.6 percent between 2007 and 2009, from 436,944 cases to 543,035 cases. Between 2009 and 2012, reported neglect cases decreased two percent, to 531,241 cases. (Abuse, which can be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual, requires intent on the part of the abuser to do harm, while neglect occurs when a parent or caretaker fails to attend to a child’s needs.)

Meanwhile, during the downturn hospitals reported an increase in injuries consistent with abuse, including an increase in the number of reported brain and head traumas.

Federal spending on child abuse prevention programs remained about the same during the recession while spending at the state level varied widely. About half the states spent more, and half spent less.

Overall, state and local spending declined by $349 per child between 2008 and 2011, as states slashed spending on social services to close budget gaps.

“Recovery takes several years,” Meadows said. “Strong safety net programs worked. But if you cut the safety nets too quickly or too much, you could stall or reverse the recovery that’s still going on.”

Q: Is there any area in which children’s lives improved during the recession?

A: Millions of jobs were lost during the recession, and millions of children lost health insurance through their parents’ employer-covered plans. Despite this, the uninsured rate among children is lower today than when the recession began, according to Ed Walz, vice president of communications for First Focus.

Investments in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), along with CHIP eligibility expansions, played a big role in lowering the rates of uninsured children.

During the depths of the recession, 2007 to 2009, the number of uninsured children shrank by 600,000 while the number of adults without health insurance increased by 6.3 million.

CHIP, which provides free or low-cost insurance to families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid, is a federal-state partnership. States are required by federal law to provide CHIP coverage, but they have the flexibility to determine the extent of benefits and can tailor their programs to meet the needs of their populations. BadgerCare in Wisconsin, for example, looks different from PeachCare in Georgia.

The federal government didn’t require states to expand coverage during the recession, but states weren’t allowed to shrink it — and they didn’t. Between 2008 and 2012, 12 states loosened eligibility requirements to include children from slightly higher-income households. The report found that states tried to limit out-of-pocket health care costs for low-income families.

“Kids didn’t lose any ground. It was success and continues to be a success,” said Kathleen Noonan, co-director of PolicyLab.

After the recession, the number of uninsured children continued to drop each year. But under the Affordable Care Act, federal funding for CHIP will expire in October unless Congress extends it.

Photo: U.S. Department Of Agriculture via Flickr

‘Guerrilla Farming’ Takes Off

By Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org

EARLYSVILLE, Va. — The Rhode Island Reds run free, which means the hens have a habit of laying their eggs anywhere they please: under the porch, near the hog pen, next to that tree over there. So Chris and Annie Newman have no choice but to play a kind of farmer hide-and-go-seek, squatting and squinting, reaching and grabbing for those hidden brown orbs. That beats their poultry processing duties, though, which are messy and bloody and decidedly not for the faint of heart.

A little more than a year ago, Chris, 32, and Annie, 28, threw $27,000 of their life savings and Kickstarter proceeds into “guerrilla farming,” a beyond-organic approach that relies on imitating nature to create self-sustaining agriculture that looks out for the environment, animal welfare and public health.

Newbies like the Newmans face a number of challenges. For first-generation farmers who didn’t grow up on the family farm, access to affordable land is a big deal. The days of being able to purchase some cheap land in the country are gone.

Young farmers often find themselves competing with deep-pocketed land developers for scarce resources. Access to capital and financing pose other problems. Getting a loan isn’t easy, particularly for young college grads saddled with heavy student loans.

Recognizing those obstacles, some states have created programs to provide the next generation of farmers with the skills and land needed to be economically competitive. Missouri, Maryland and Virginia, for example, are among the states that help prospective farmers access available land, while Massachusetts, Minnesota and Delaware provide financial assistance to independent farmers who are just starting out, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The future of young farmers has broad implications for states, from ensuring the safety and security of the local food supply to strengthening rural communities to mitigating climate change and drought, according to Holly Rippon-Butler, land access campaign manager for the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC).

“If we don’t help the young generation of farmers get on the land, retiring farmers will quickly run out of people to sell the land to, individuals who will continue to grow food on it and treat it as farmland,” said Rippon-Butler. “We will lose the ability to produce our own food and to ensure that our food supply is controlled and safe.”

According to Rippon-Butler, there are two big needs to keep farming viable for the next generation. “You need farmers who are willing to work every day on the farm,” she said. “And you need farmers who are willing to go out and advocate for the structural changes we need to make that work possible.”

For years, the small family farm has been slowly dying out, as large corporations, such as Monsanto and Perdue, increasingly dominate the industry. Every week, about 330 farmers leave their farms for good, according to Farm Aid; less than 1 percent of Americans today claim farming as an occupation. The fastest growing group of farmers and ranchers is 65 and older, according to census statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the second-fastest growing group is young farmers and ranchers who are under 35. There are only about 110,000 nationwide, but they are the only age group under 55 whose numbers are increasing. Most of them are first-generation, new to the industry and trying to earn a living on independent farms. According to a National Young Farmers’ Coalition report, the vast majority of young farmers — 78 percent — did not grow up on a farm.

For most first-generation farmers, securing land is a daunting obstacle. According to the NYFC survey, 70 percent of farmers under 30 rent farmland, compared with 37 percent of farmers over 30. Farmers who were raised on a farm were much more likely to own land — 65 percent — compared with 50 percent of farmers who did not grow up farming. According to Rippon-Butler, more than two-thirds of American farmland is currently being farmed by individuals who are 55 and older, who will be nearing retirement over the next couple of decades.

“In the next 20, 25 years, there’s a lot of land transfer that’s going to be happening,” Rippon-Butler said. “There’s lots of potential for people who own land to think creatively and create opportunities for young farmers.”

But real estate changes hands quickly and most young farmers don’t have the wherewithal to quickly secure financing, she said. Between 2000 and 2010, national land prices doubled; an average-sized farm can cost upwards of $1 million.

As Chris Newman sees it, he and his wife “hit the lottery” when it came to securing land. A member of the Choptico-Kanawha band of Piscataway Indians, Chris was eager to farm as his ancestors once did, eschewing loans, pesticides, fertilizers, expensive equipment and bureaucracy. His in-laws happened to have a house on 26 acres of land here just outside Charlottesville, where the University of Virginia is located — land that was zoned agricultural. Annie’s parents were going to sell their property, which was mostly covered by trees, but agreed to let the young couple “squat” on the land for a year or so.

Eventually, the Newmans hope to find another property and move once they’ve established themselves in the business.

“It’s not easy when you’re trying to learn a new career on the fly,” said Chris, who quit his job as a software engineer to launch Sylvanaqua Farms. Annie used to be an art gallery director. “Farming’s not simple. You’ve got to be smart to do it. But people are really attached to us being here. When the pigs escape or you’re killing a chicken and you get poop in your mustache, you say, ‘Well, people really appreciate what we’re doing.’ ”

Agriculture, Virginia’s biggest industry, has an economic impact of $52 billion annually and provides nearly 311,000 jobs, according to the state agriculture department. But a lot of the farm land is owned by people who never were farmers or who have given up farming for good, according to Ron Saacke, the young farmers’ coordinator for the Virginia Farm Bureau. So in 2012, the state agriculture department partnered with the Farm Bureau to link existing landowners with young and beginning farmers looking for land through a farmland database. Virginia Tech University, with a small grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also helped.

Progress has been slow, Saacke said. More than 80 young and beginning farmers have gone through the application process, but only 15 have been certified to participate. Only a handful of matches have been made. “Until you have a whole lot of examples of successes, it’s hard to get people on board. That’s our challenge,” Saacke said.

Matching farmers to farmland can be as tricky as finding a suitable mate to marry. Erica Hellen and Joel Slezak, young farmers who live up the road from the Newmans, thought they’d found the ideal situation: a landowner willing to lease their land to them so that they could explore sustainable farming. They were already farming on Joel’s parents’ 13-acre land, but they were looking to expand.

“It sounded awesome, to live in a house on the owner’s property and transition it to a sustainable farm. At the end of the day, she wanted (the farm) to look like a (well-manicured) golf course,” Erica said. Instead, the couple ended up “nickeling and diming” on other people’s land, using a tiny parcel here for one crop and another parcel at another farm for a different crop. They lease a total of about 100 acres.

In Nebraska and Iowa, landowners are offered tax incentives to sell or lease land to young farmers. Other states are experimenting with conservation easement programs, which designate certain amounts of land as farm; developers can’t buy the land, and, for example, turn it into condos. Anyone buying the land has to use it strictly for agriculture.

Often, getting access to land happens when farmers become part of the community, Rippon-Butler said. “Many real estate deals don’t make it to the market. They’re happening at dinner, or at church. You’ve got to be someone that people trust business-wise and socially. That’s the reality of farming in many places.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Southern States Create A New Face Of AIDS

By Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org

New Yorker Deadra Malloy was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, but she remained healthy for so long she wasn’t completely convinced she was positive. When she finally started getting sick in 2006, she decided to embrace her “ancestral roots” and accepted a job down South, where her mother was from.

Malloy didn’t know that the move, first to North Carolina and then to Columbia, South Carolina, would make it much more difficult to manage her health. New York offers free health care, including HIV drugs, to HIV-positive state residents who are uninsured or underinsured, while assistance is harder to come by in North Carolina and South Carolina. At the time a single mother of two, Malloy couldn’t afford her medication, which cost upwards of $2,500 a month. So she did without it for nearly a year — and ended up in the emergency room with a raging case of pneumonia.

“This wouldn’t have happened in New York,” says Malloy, now 52, who became a passionate activist after her experience, forming Positive Voices, the first advocacy group for women living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina. “New York was already way ahead (with services for AIDS patients). There were times I wanted to run back to New York. But I didn’t want to see anybody die (in South Carolina) who didn’t have to.”

The original face of AIDS was that of a middle-class, often white gay man living in New York City or San Francisco. That picture has changed over time as people of color have become disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Today, the face of AIDS is black or Latino, poor, often rural — and Southern.

Southern states now have the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses, the largest percentage of people living with the disease, and the most people dying from it, according to Rainey Campbell, executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, a nonprofit group serving the 16 Southern states and Washington, D.C. Fifty percent of all new HIV cases are in the South.

The HIV infection rate among African-American and Latina women in the South now rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. In some Southern states, black women account for more than 80 percent of new HIV diagnoses among women.

States in the South have the least expansive Medicaid programs and the strictest eligibility requirements to qualify for assistance, which prevents people living with HIV/AIDS from getting care, according to a Southern AIDS Coalition report. In the South, Campbell said, people living with HIV have to reach disability status before they qualify for aid. This is significant, because nationally the vast majority of HIV/AIDS patients rely on Medicaid for their health care, according to research conducted by the Morehouse College of Medicine.

None of the nine deep Southern states with the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses — Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas — as chosen to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Those states also have the highest fatality rates from HIV in the country, according to the Southern AIDS Coalition.

A recent study conducted by the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that if the nine Deep South states expanded Medicaid coverage, more than $65 billion in federal funding would flood those states and an additional four million people would have insurance coverage.

“Jurisdictions throughout the South fail at nearly every level of HIV prevention and care, ignoring proven strategies that could help to address the uncontrolled epidemic and alarming death rate,” Campbell said.

Many of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the South are desperately poor. Many live in rural areas miles upon miles from a clinic, and don’t have access to cars. Others live without running water, or without homes. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last year found that more than 40 percent of those infected have an average household income of less than $10,000.

Poverty runs deep throughout the South. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, of the 20 states with the highest poverty rates, 12 of them are Southern states — and they are becoming poorer.

But it’s not just money, or the lack of it, that accounts for the disproportionate number of people living with, and dying from, HIV/AIDS in the Deep South. The escalating HIV rates are the result of a combination of social factors, including poverty, racism, persistent anti-gay attitudes, increasing homelessness, and a lack of transportation in rural areas.

In the South, AIDS still has the taint of the plague. Fear of being judged and ostracized keeps some people away from clinics and the care they need. Those who don’t know they’re infected will infect others.

“There are those who see HIV/AIDS as a punishment from God,” said South Carolina state Rep. Joe Neal, a Democrat. “There are those who simply don’t understand. As a result, this disease creates a stigma that creates a barrier to compassion, and frankly, treatment.”

According to Campbell of the Southern AIDS Coalition, Southern states are much more likely to use abstinence-only sex education instead of comprehensive HIV/AIDS and sex education in the schools. Many state-sanctioned sex education programs in the South emphasize that sex only should take place within the confines of heterosexual marriage. These states also tend to have more restrictive laws criminalizing HIV exposure and sex work.

The stigma against HIV also plays out in the workplace, despite federal laws prohibiting discrimination against people with AIDS, said Linda Dixon Rigsby, the health law director for the Mississippi Center for Justice. “We still get a lot of cases where the employer doesn’t seem to understand that what they’re doing is illegal,” Rigsby said. “They’re very open about why they fired the person. It’s like the ’50s race discrimination cases all over again.”

South Carolina is one of the country’s HIV “hot spots,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But bit by bit, the state is making inroads against HIV/AIDS, thanks to a collaboration between AIDS service organizations, state government, the legislature, and community partners. “This is a state that came into the AIDS fight late,” Neal said. “As a result, it has a strong foothold in South Carolina.”

AFP Photo/Manjunath Kiran

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Suburban Poverty Grows Beyond Ferguson

By Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org

The fires of Ferguson, Mo., run counter to the narrative about suburbia, the story Americans tell themselves about strip malls and rolling lawns, about McMansions and upward mobility. Instead, the unrest in the St. Louis suburb after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer evokes images of 1960s-era Watts, of burning inner-city neighborhoods in New York, Washington, Detroit and Chicago.

The tear gas and protests in Ferguson were sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown, but they point to deeper, more pervasive problems that plague suburbs across the country: rapidly increasing poverty, scarce jobs and even scarcer resources.

“Poverty is rising in suburban communities and it’s smashing the stereotype of calm and prosperity,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “All over the country outside major central cities, the rate of poverty in the suburbs is exceeding that of the (urban) places people used to leave to escape.”

In Ferguson, which has a population of just over 21,000, the poor population rose 99 percent in the past decade, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the co-author of “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.” (Overall, the poor population in the St. Louis suburbs rose 68 percent.)

Across the country, more poor people live in suburbs than live in cities.

Perceptions have yet to catch up with how radically the geography of poverty has shifted, Kneebone said. Without an up-to-date understanding of the complexity of poverty, suburbs often don’t have the resources needed to help their impoverished populations, she said.

“We need to come up with a 21st century agenda,” said Sylvester Brown, a community activist and former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We know poverty is at the root of all this (in Ferguson). But I’m not hearing talk about the long-term solution, about what is really the belly of the beast, economic transformation.

“This is a country (wide) problem. It just happened to fire up in Ferguson.”

From 2000 to 2011, the number of Americans living below the federal poverty level ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) rose about 36 percent, to 46.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of the suburban poor grew 64 percent.

There’s no single path to poverty in the suburbs. Some of suburbia’s poor are the formerly middle class who were walloped by the 2007-09 recession, losing jobs and homes when the housing bubble popped. Some are immigrants who bypassed the traditional urban route and headed straight for the suburbs. Others are lower-income African Americans and Latinos who were pushed out of gentrifying cities as housing prices skyrocketed. Other people, some of them with federal housing vouchers, left cities looking for jobs, safer neighborhoods or better schools.

“The movement to the suburbs is really about people moving to opportunity,” said John A. Powell (he spells his name with lower-case letters), a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Hass Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

“But low-income people have not landed in places of high opportunity in the suburbs,” Powell said. “They move from depressed cities to depressed suburbs. They are trying to move to opportunity and they are failing. Opportunity is moving away from them.”

In the suburbs, as in the rest of the country, race and poverty are inextricably linked. There are prosperous African-American suburbs, like Maryland’s Prince George’s County (outside Washington), California’s Ladera Heights (Los Angeles) and New York’s Hillcrest (New York City). And yes, most poor suburban residents are white. But increasingly, the faces of suburban poverty are black and brown.

People of color in the suburbs are disproportionately likely to be poor and much more likely to live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. The disparities are stark, Kneebone said: Over 50 percent of African Americans and Latinos live in poor suburban neighborhoods, compared with 23 percent of white suburbanites.

Case in point: Ferguson, where 25 percent of blacks live below the poverty line, compared with 11 percent of whites. (Ferguson is divided along strictly black/white lines; its Asian and Latino populations are quite small.) The median income for African Americans in Ferguson is $32,500, compared with $53,400 for whites. The black unemployment rate in Ferguson is 19 percent; white unemployment is 6.7 percent. In 1990, Ferguson was a majority-white enclave; today 67 percent of the population is African American. Its leadership structure, from City Hall to the police, remains overwhelmingly white.

Broader changes in the U.S. economy also have changed the character of the suburbs. Jobs have moved out of cities into the suburbs, even with the revitalization of many cities. But most are not the well-paying manufacturing jobs that bolstered the urban middle class for decades. Instead, suburban jobs are concentrated in the retail or construction sector — jobs that tend to pay less and were decimated by the recession.

Even as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery from the recession, a structural shift to lower-paying jobs is likely to exacerbate the suburban poverty trend.

A 2012 study by the National Employment Law Project found that lower-paying jobs accounted for 21 percent of recession job losses and for 58 percent of recovery growth. Higher-income wage earners accounted for 19 percent of job losses in the recession and 20 percent of growth in the recent economic recovery. Middle-income wage earners took the biggest hit, accounting for 60 percent of recession losses and only 22 percent of recovery growth.

In many ways, being poor in the suburbs is more difficult than it is in cities.

For one, transportation is often a problem. Few suburbs have the kind of reliable public transit systems of cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, making owning a car imperative. Commutes are often lengthy and expensive; a sick child in day care needing to be picked up from the other side of town can present a crisis for a parent who could lose a much-needed job.

For poor suburbanites, having a car can be both a lifeline and a liability. In St. Louis County, which includes Ferguson, there are 90 municipalities. In a nine-mile strip, a driver can drive through as many as 16 of them, said Thomas Harvey, co-founder and executive director of the Arch City Defenders, a nonprofit agency that provides legal services for the indigent in St. Louis County. The Arch City Defenders released a study of the municipal courts in St. Louis County and found that in Ferguson, court fees were the suburb’s second-largest source of revenue.

Often, Harvey said, their clients will get traffic tickets driving through one of those 16 jurisdictions. Perhaps they’re driving a car that needs repairs before it can pass inspection. They can’t afford to pay the tickets and their licenses are suspended.

“These are people who are making a choice between paying their electricity and getting their car fixed,” Harvey said. He added that his group’s study also found that in Ferguson, 86 percent of traffic stops involved black motorists, although blacks make up just 67 percent of the population. Whites make up 29 percent of the population of Ferguson but account for just 12.7 percent of vehicle stops. Blacks in Ferguson were much more likely to be searched by police, although whites were more likely to be found with contraband, the study found.

Ferguson has a large apartment complex just across from where Michael Brown was shot. But most suburbs don’t have the kind of bleak housing projects that put inner cities like Chicago on the poverty map. Privation can look different in the suburbs, but poor is still poor. A poor person in a relatively prosperous suburban county, for example, might not qualify for health and social services because their ZIP code appears to be much richer on paper, said Levy of the National Center for Suburban Studies.

And most suburbs aren’t equipped — and in some cases, aren’t willing — to handle the problems presented by its poor populations. Most government and nonprofit money is concentrated in the cities, leaving the suburbs short on services. Few have adequate job training, foreclosure counseling, food banks or multilingual social workers.

That’s partly because suburbs with large impoverished populations don’t have the tax base to fund such programs, said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association in suburban Chicago.

In Chicago’s south suburbs, for example, tens of thousands of jobs disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s when steel mills were closed. When the jobs left, working-class suburbs became home to the working poor — and to the jobless.

Homes were left vacant and abandoned, and so, too, were many industrial sites. Property and sales tax revenues plummeted, squeezing schools reliant on that money. Middle-class families, deterred by the struggling schools, declined to move in.

Levy said American suburbs are likely to continue to be home to growing numbers of poor people.

“This is creating not just a moral dilemma for these communities, but it creates economic challenges as well,” Levy said. “How can you have a truly successful and sustainable economy in a region if more and more of your communities are sending your kids to the worst schools, have access to the fewest jobs, the worst health care and people have a harder time getting to work — if they have it?”

Some communities are battling the suburban poverty crisis by encouraging jurisdictions to work together, combining resources and sharing solutions. In Montgomery County, Md., county government worked with local churches and other nonprofits to create the Neighborhood Opportunity Network, which provides help for those in need of such things as paying utility bills, health care and foreclosure prevention.

The city and county of Denver partnered with investors to create a fund that would build affordable housing close to mass transit, so that lower-income residents would have easy access to jobs.

Chicago’s south suburbs have 43 municipalities, many of which have populations and face problems similar to Ferguson’s. When the housing industry tanked at the end of the past decade, government officials collaborated to apply for federal government assistance. The idea was to think about the needs they had as a collective region of 650,000 inhabitants, rather than just that of individual towns, said Janice Morrissy, deputy executive director of housing for the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.

The association received about $29 million for housing rehab, neighborhood stabilization and workforce development. In 2010, the cross-jurisdictional collaboration expanded to focusing on economic development. The group recently started a $6 million loan fund to encourage developers to build a mix of retail, commercial and housing developments close to mass transit.

It’s unclear whether leaders in Ferguson and St. Louis County will follow that path.

“My biggest fear is that this case will be resolved one way or another, and there will be a lot of federal money given to (local) nonprofits. But if they don’t get new voices at the table, it won’t address the systemic problems,” the Arch City Defenders’ Harvey said.

Photo: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MC