Sunday, March 7, 2010

Poverty is hitting the suburbs with more sting

Bastions of the middle class, Twin Cities suburbs are seeing financial pain spreading quietly among their residents. They now have more poor people than the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.


Last update: March 6, 2010 - 10:03 PM

In a startling shift, Twin Cities suburbs now have more poor people than the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Job losses, foreclosures and disappearing insurance coverage have pushed requests for food stamps, medical assistance and emergency housing aid to record levels. Homeless numbers are rising. Food shelves are scrambling to meet demand.

It's a trend mirrored in suburbs across the nation, where a recent study found that suburban poverty has grown five times faster than it has in big cities.

Worst hit are single moms and unskilled workers whose finances were shaky before the economy dipped. But financial stress reaches well into the middle class.

"These are really the new poor,'' said Edna Hoium, Anoka County's income maintenance director. "They're shocked to find out how little they have to have to qualify for benefits."

"The stories are very quiet,'' said Cathy Maes, executive director of ICA, a Minnetonka food shelf that opened a satellite in Hopkins to meet new demand. "There's a lot of pride."

They are hard-working people like Claudia Morris, 34, of Hopkins. The divorced mother of two has a college degree and a $21-per-hour job as a Costco supervisor. She had always provided for her kids on her own. Then last summer her car was hit by a driver who ran a red light. Hospital scans after the accident revealed a growth in Morris' neck: thyroid cancer.

An operation and radiation treatments followed. But health insurance didn't cover all of the costs. She struggled with fatigue as doctors tried to balance her medications. Unable to work full time, Morris moved her family from a Minnetonka apartment to a cheaper house that she rents in Hopkins.

Bills stacked up. She emptied her savings and borrowed from relatives, "even my grandpa." In desperation last fall, she went downtown to apply for food stamps. She wasn't poor enough to qualify.

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