That stereotype of poverty being solely an inner city phenomenum just blew up – if it ever was really true at all. Seems there more “po'” folks in the ‘burbs than ever before. Indeed, there is now more poverty in the ‘burbs, than in urban areas.
What this means for the country is another harbinger of a disaster, brought on by disastrous legislative and economic policies. The modern poor include a lot of folks who pushed all the right buttons, and jumped all the right hurdles in life – working hard, getting an education…
Who are now jobless, and increasingly homeless.
Poverty is rising all over the United States, but it is especially pronounced in the suburbs, which were once regarded as a haven from the ills of the inner cities.
According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, one-third of the nation’s poor now reside in the suburbs.
CAP explained that the last decade set in motion this shift in the map of poverty, but the recession exacerbated key economic trends that rapidly increased the growth rate of suburban poverty to more than double that of central cities.
According to data from the Brookings Institute, as of 2009, 13.7-million poor people lived in the suburbs, a 37 percent increase since 2000 (compared with a 26.5 percent growth for the nation as a whole). In fact, it is now estimated that the number of poor people living in suburbia exceeds the number in the inner cities by about 1.6-million.
For example, poverty in the suburbs surrounding Chicago has climbed by 50 percent between 2000 and 2009 (while, ironically, the city’s poverty rate actually declined by 0.9 percent).
“Suburban communities are affected by a growing number of recession-related fiscal challenges including job loss, unemployment and underemployment, and the foreclosure crisis,” CAP stated. “But an affordable housing shortage and lack of efficient public transit and walkable communities are exacerbating these conditions.”
Indeed, over the last decade many low-income families leaving deteriorating high-poverty neighborhoods in central cities in search of better job opportunities, neighborhoods, and schools found themselves settled in new pockets of poverty in the suburbs, CAP added.
Alexandra Cawthorne, research associate at CAP, explained that there are several reasons why poverty has been on the rise over the last decade. “Conditions in inner cities have deteriorated, and that has led many poor people to move outside of the area to surrounding suburbs,” she said.
“Additionally, you have the impact of the recession on folks who already live within the suburbs, and that includes widespread unemployment and job loss as well as declines in real income, and a number of other social and economic factors that have also contributed to the declines in their own well-being.” Making matters worse, CAP noted, social service providers are often spread thin in suburban areas, and many have been forced to turn away more poor people as the need grows.
“Poverty tends to be less visible in the suburbs and manifest differently from poverty in inner cities,” CAP indicated.
“Outer-ring suburban areas often have fewer community anchors such as universities, hospitals, and large businesses to stabilize them, which results in islands of poverty more isolated than the poor populations in many inner-city neighborhoods.”
Cawthorne stated that suburbs are particularly unable to deal with the increase in poverty.
“The social safety net is actually stretched much thinner in suburban areas,” she said.
“For one, during the recession the fiscal crisis has completely decimated the funds that a number of social service nonprofits have in the suburbs. Additionally, charitable giving is also directed at cities and not so much the suburbs because of a perception that poverty is much worse in urban areas. Furthermore, the lack of an efficient public transportation system makes an additional barrier for a lot of poor folks living in suburban areas to actually access the social service providers necessary to meet their needs including housing, food, and assistance paying bills.”
Moreover, suburban communities have seen increased racial and income stratification as low-income workers — particularly recent immigrants and Hispanics — followed the migration of low-skilled and low-wage jobs out of central cities.
The lack of affordable housing is now a middle-class issue, CAP asserted, particularly in the suburbs.
One study from the University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital explains that the affordable housing crunch is no longer felt “primarily at the bottom of the income scale…it has moved with surprising rapidity and reaches well into the middle class.”
“The remarkably high growth of suburban poverty contradicts our commonly held perceptions of suburbs as leafy subdivisions, gated communities, and, in general, refuges from poverty in cities,” CAP stated.
“But this redrawing of the American poverty map should cause us to abandon long-held myopic views of the people and communities that typically see poverty’s effects. Governments should work toward breaking down urban-suburban silos and develop innovative regional approaches to tackle poverty that encompass both city and suburb.”