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How poverty plays a role in Ferguson

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 7:45 a.m. MDT

People are moved by a line of police as authorities disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo. early Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

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Ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri, may be the result of growing poverty in the area. And Ferguson is not alone. A new analysis from The Brookings Institute shows that unemployment and poverty rates have only increased in Ferguson in the last decade, and the city is just one in the nationwide trend of growing suburban poverty.

According to the Brookings report, the unemployment rate in Ferguson has risen from less than 5 percent in 2000 to more than 13 percent from 2010 to 2012. And the number of families using federal housing assistance climbed from about 300 to more than 800 from 2000 to 2010, reports Brookings.

The growth is not just in Ferguson or St. Louis County. "In the first decade of the 21st century, poverty rates grew in suburban areas around the country, and already poor areas saw poverty become more concentrated," Reuters reported.

Time Magazine's Denver Nicks reports that "poverty in America's suburbs has been on the increase nationwide for decades, as the suburbs themselves have grown and affordable housing options moved further out from urban centers. Opportunities for low-skill jobs — already diminished due to the decline in American manufacturing — in sectors like retail and construction have become more concentrated in suburbs. And it's not only a matter of emigration of low-income people into the suburbs. Long-term residents in some places have become poorer; suburban areas were hit particularly hard by the recession and housing crisis in the 2000s."

"The same decay that sparked unrest in one Missouri town is taking place across the country," Nicks contined.

Dr. Norm White, a criminologist at the St. Louis University School of Social Work, told Time that the situation is not very different from the rest of the country. "Ferguson is just the place that the scab got pulled off. … The reason why this is so intense is that there are a lot of these little communities that have been left almost to rot. Physically the buildings are falling down. There are no social service programs."

Many have exposed the deep-seeded racial tensions behind the Ferguson protests, like discovering that while 69 percent of the population is black, according to a 2010 survey, the mayor, police chief, five of six city council members and six of seven school board members are white, and just three of 53 police officers are black, according to the New York Times.

The protests are in reaction to the shooting and killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 by Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson. While the specific circumstances of the shooting are still unclear, it is known that Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting. As the country watches and the media provides extensive coverage, deeper questions about Ferguson's history have emerged and more has become known about the environment that led to riots, leading Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency on Aug. 16.

Another man was shot and killed by a police officer in St. Louis on Aug. 19, the New York Times reports, after he approached two police officers with a raised knife, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The Times describes the shooting victim as an "emotionally disturbed 23-year-old black man."

amcdonald@deseretnews.com

Twitter | @amymcdonald89

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