Published: Oct 07, 2010 3:33 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 07, 2010 12:33 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - Battered by the downturn, America's suburbs are bearing the brunt of poverty that has climbed to near-historic levels, creating strains on dwindling safety-net programs focusing mostly on the inner-city poor.

A pair of analyses by the nonprofit Brookings Institution paint a bleak economic picture for the 100 largest metropolitan areas over the past decade and in the coming years, when the U.S. poverty rate is projected to edge toward 15 percent.

They also come weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections in which voters anxious over the slumping economy will decide whether to keep Democrats in power. Made up of both cities and surrounding suburbs, the large metro areas represent two-thirds of the U.S. population and are home to key battlegrounds that helped lift Democrat Barack Obama to victory in 2008.

The analyses of census data released Thursday show that since 2000, the number of poor people in the suburbs jumped by 37.4 percent to 13.7 million. That's faster than the national growth rate of 26.5 percent and more than double the city rate of 16.7 percent.

After the recession began in 2007, the suburbs continued to post larger increases in the number of poor - adding 1.8 million, compared to 1.4 million in the cities. Suburbs are now home to roughly one-third of the nation's poor.