Poverty isn’t just an urban issue anymore. The poverty rates across America have soared in recent years, but since 2000 have increased twice as fast in the American suburbs (53 percent) as in cities (23 percent), according to a new book from the Brookings Institution, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.
Concentrated poverty is still a markedly urban problem, but by the end of the last decade more than one-third of the suburban poor population lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates 20 percent or higher.
What’s driving suburban poverty? The Great Recession was tough on the entire country, but really exacerbated the rising poverty in suburbia. The study’s authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube put a fine point on it here:
“The economic tumult of the 2000s — with two economic downturns, sluggish recoveries, stagnating or falling wages, and the growth of low wage work and inequality — contributed to the decade’s rapid rise in suburban poverty. Even before the Great Recession, suburban communities struggled with many of the same economic challenges that confronted the rest of the nation.
Whether due to job access, economic recession, immigration, housing market dynamics, or some combination thereof, poverty increases in suburbia are occurring against a diverse and complicated local demographic and economic backdrop.”
Kneebone and Berube’s book paints a sad picture of America’s poverty by looking at the entire country, from New York City to Utah to suburban Maryland. It’s not just a problem on Chicago’s south side or Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood anymore, poverty is now part of the fabric of areas once thought reserved only for the affluent — suburbia.
This only further demonstrates the need for policymakers and planners and non-profits to work together — or, god forbid, at least have a conversation — on how to better integrate cities. If new gleaming luxury towers are popping up all over Manhattan, there damn well better be some affordable housing nearby. And would it be too much to ask that said affordable housing be served by some sort of easily accessible transit?
If we don’t keep cities integrated economically — that means service jobs and construction jobs and jobs that don’t necessitate a college degree that also offer livable wages, not just luxury high rises and farm-to-table restaurants — it’s only going to mean higher concentrated poverty rates. New development means people have to move out of the neighborhood. Cities can’t just push these citizens aside, or else we’re going to end up with scores of new ghettos and more concentrated pockets of poverty across the country.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.