Poverty Is Crushing Suburban America Where Americans Are Reluctant To Ask For Help


Photo: Tammra McCauley via flickr

Poverty is expanding in America and the suburbs now house the majority of the nation’s poor. In a drastic shift from the way life has been for almost a century, more poverty stricken American’s live away from cities, and poverty rates are rising faster in suburbia than any other residential area in the country.

Where it was once urban centres and inner cities, today’s growing class of poverty-stricken Americans are living in homes they own, on quiet tree-lined streets.

Unfortunately, the homes are going into foreclosure, streetlights are being removed, and infrastructure is crumbling.

The Brookings Institution recently released their census analysis showing that the number of poor citizens in the suburbs rose 53 per cent from 2000 to 2010, compared to 26 per cent in the cities (via Moneyland).

The causes are as varied as they are difficult to reverse:

  • Population growth
  • Job decentralization
  • ageing of housing
  • Immigration
  • Region-wide economic decline’
  • Government policies ushering city poor into suburban homes

There are millions more poor living in the suburbs than live in the city — 15.4 million compared to 12.7 — and those numbers continue to skew away from urban areas.

From 2009 to 2010 rising poverty levels more than doubled in the suburbs up 11.5 per cent compared to 5 per cent in urban areas.

CNN Money mapped out the highest suburban areas in the country:

  • El Paso, TX — 36.4% of suburban residents live in poverty
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX — 35.4% of suburban residents live in poverty
  • Fresno, CA — 23.1% of suburban residents live in poverty

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, who conducted the analysis of census data told The New York Times, “The growth has been stunning. For the first time, more than half of the metropolitan poor live in suburban homes.”

The Times looks at Cleveland’s suburbs where 60 per cent of the cities poor now reside, up from 46 per cent in 2000. Unlike urban centres where the poor are often accustomed to assistance, out in the once prosperous suburbs, residents are reluctant to ask for help.

Churches offering assistance will post a member at the entrance to the drive, assuring people who drive by that it is OK to stop and receive help.

And demand is way up. The Cleveland Food Bank doubled its distribution to six counties between 2005 and 2010. The Food Bank’s director Anne Goodman told the NYT that among residents, “There’s this sense of surprise. This feeling that this has got to be a mistake. It has got to be a bad dream.”

Check out the heartbreaking pictures from New Jersey’s homeless Tent City >

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