Poverty in the Suburbs

-77231e47b540724b_large The Economist discusses poverty rates in the suburbs.

"According to two new reports from the Brookings Institution, over the past decade the number of poor people in the suburbs has jumped by a whopping 37.4% to 13.7m, compared with some 12.1m people below the poverty line in cities. Although poverty rates remain higher in the inner cities, the gap is narrowing."

Social institutions out here in the suburbs are struggling to deal with these new facts. My dad runs a food pantry that is struggling to keep up with the long lines of people who walk several miles to pick up a bag of groceries. The school principal rants about the Mexicans who live in the rental units by the railroad tracks that drag down the school test scores. The school nurse doesn't know how to handle the children who come into her office with rotting teeth. Cash-poor neighbors moved out this weekend; their possessions were thrown in the back of dump truck and a mother didn't know where her four children were going to sleep that night.

9 thoughts on “Poverty in the Suburbs

  1. I looked at the piece and maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any mention of Section 8.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/09/us/09housing.html
    My feeling is, that the Economist is not our best source for news on life in the US, although I believe they did pretty good work on the US housing bubble early on. It’s this sort of thing that makes me wonder how much faith to put in their magisterial articles on more exotic countries. Ever notice how the Economist knows exactly what everybody’s country ought to do?

  2. re: your now-homeless neighbor — wow, that is very harsh. Four kids. Ouch.
    It’s getting to the point where one of my main experiences of this economic downturn is survivor guilt. I watch friends and family losing their jobs and homes and I feel rotten. Like I’m somehow the Nazi collaborator who gets a free pass. Because I don’t feel most of these folks really deserve what they’re getting; they may have made some bad decisions, yes, but nothing on a scale that justifies the breathtaking fall from the middle class.
    On the poverty topic, I’m not sure we as a country really know how to deal with poverty, urban/suburban/elsewhere. Our bootstrap narrative doesn’t leave a lot of room for poverty, you know?

  3. The New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH)has requirements for a certain number of “affordable housing” units in each town. Our town had always been exempt, since we were “fully developed” before the affordable housing requirements came into effect, and therefore had nowhere to put low income housing.
    But now a large hospital is allegedly moving away, and the town is up in arms because COAH wants part of the land to be used for affordable housing. My racist, bigoted, anti-poor-people neighbors cannily took the approach of suggesting that the town buy the area for “open space,” getting a lot of liberal anti-development environmentalist allies in their quest to keep out the low-incomers.
    I’m kind of indifferent, but wonder if there’s really value (to the poor people) of putting them in a ritzy town like ours with no social services and safety nets nearby. Up until a few years ago, we had a poor, hippyish family renting a house down the block. The first time they had a family crisis, the neighborhood pulled together the help. The second time, the neighborhood seemed to collectively decide, “Jeez, if you can’t go two years without a crisis, maybe you should be living in a cheaper neighborhood.” They left soon thereafter. I’m guessing the low-income neighbors (if they do, eventually, materialize) won’t get a chance to make it to a second chance.

  4. But, as Amy notes, there has been a deliberate policy to decentralize poverty and I’d be very curious to know if Section 8 or a changed economy was driving the suburban poverty increases.

  5. “I’m kind of indifferent, but wonder if there’s really value (to the poor people) of putting them in a ritzy town like ours with no social services and safety nets nearby.”
    Ah, but their kids get to go to good schools… and, even if you can’t see the social services in the ‘burbs, they may well be better and more personalized than in overwhelmed large cities.
    My family managed to have crises both in NYC and in the (NY) suburbs, and got a lot more useful help for the latter… in the suburbs, they care if e.g. someone is walking down the street shouting in the middle of the night, and they actually provided followup care, group homes with say 10 residents (not 500), etc.
    (Transportation was a much bigger pain, though, even with a kind of okay bus system and a taxi driver in the family.)

  6. “But, as Amy notes, there has been a deliberate policy to decentralize poverty and I’d be very curious to know if Section 8 or a changed economy was driving the suburban poverty increases.”
    Probably both, but why miss a chance to beat up on The Economist?

  7. The suburbs have been growing for 60 years, or so. How many of the suburban poor are retired, and living on a fixed income?
    The formula once ran, you’d buy a house on a mortgage, pay it off as your children grew up and were educated in the good schools, then sold the house to a young family. The sale of the house financed your retirement in Florida.
    If that model’s broken, then the poverty rate will increase, as the retired people, who traditionally downsized and headed to Florida, are still living in their four bedroom colonials. The frozen real estate market influences local demographics.

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