Poverty Is Rising Much Faster in Suburbs Than in Cities

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Years into an economic recovery, millions of Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet. In 2013, 48.7 million people — 15.5 percent of the population — lived in poverty, according to a report from the US Census Bureau. And a Brookings Institute analysis of 68 large US metro areas found the poor population increased significantly from 2007-2013 in all but one of them.

But the location of the struggling households within these metro areas goes against our ingrained notions about poverty and the inner-city. So far this century, more than two-thirds of the poverty increase occurred in households located in the suburbs, not the cities proper. In fact, in 2013, suburban poverty levels exceeded those of urban areas: 56 percent of people living in poverty in major metro areas lived in the suburbs.

Suburban communities are not equipped to deal with their rapidly rising poverty rates. As Elizabeth Kneebone, co-author of the Brookings report, told The Atlantic, “Many of these communities lack the infrastructure, safety-net supports, and resources to address the needs of a growing poor population, which can make it that much harder for poor residents to connect to the kinds of opportunities that can help them get out of poverty in the long run.” Suburbs generally have poorer access to public transit and fewer social services than neighboring cities.

In a recent post in The New York Times’ Motherlode blog, Jennifer Swartvagher describes the constant stress and anxiety of suburban poverty. She pieces together freelance assignments that “barely earn enough to fill my gas tank” and worries that her children lack the birthday presents, clothes and gadgets of their middle-class classmates:

It is amazing how life can be turned upside down in such a short period of time. We were confident in our decision to have a large family. We never expected my husband’s six-figure salary to disappear. Instead, quicker than you can say the word “downsizing,” it was gone. A long year of unemployment depleted all our savings, as well as the money put away for retirement. My husband took a new position with a huge pay cut, and freelance writing doesn’t pay the bills. Sure, most families can get through this scenario once. It is much harder when unemployment strikes three times in a short period of time…

…My husband and I walk a tightrope in a constant balancing act trying to figure out if we should pay the phone bill or put gas in the car. Surely, we are not the only ones trying to stay afloat in the current economy, but I cannot tell who is walking a path similar to ours. Suburban poverty does not jump out and slap you in the face. It is the silent stigma we carry with us.

Read more at The New York Times website »

Katie Rose Quandt reports and produces for BillMoyers.com. She was previously a senior fellow at Mother Jones and has written for America, In These Times and Solitary Watch. Follow her on Twitter: @katierosequandt.

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