Poverty meet Suburbia

Suburbia, this is poverty.

Poverty has often been considered an inner city problem or a small town and rural problem, but the face of poverty is shifting in America. Communities that were once economically solid are now experiencing rising rates of economic distress.

Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director of Brooking’s Metropolitan Program and Peter Edelman, faculty director, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, Georgetown Law School, discussed suburban poverty at APA’s recent Federal Policy & Program Briefing.

Together with coauthor Elizabeth Kneebone, Berube has examined the phenomenon in Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Brookings Press, 2013).

Peter Edelman has worked in anti-poverty programs and researched this subject for many years. According to Edelman, suburban poverty has been growing gradually, but has accelerated in the early 21st century: “People who once did all right are not doing all right now.”

What makes poverty in the suburbs especially challenging? The concentration of poverty exacerbates the problem and the trend is toward more concentration.

Overall, Edelman said, 15 percent of Americans live in poverty but the in counties south of Washington, D.C., the rate is as much as 28 percent. In addition, the options for commuting to jobs are fewer in many suburbs than in urban areas. Further, the social services to assist people in need may not be well established in suburban communities.

The problem is becoming more complex, therefore the solution has to be to think in terms of a regional economy.

Part of the complexity is that “we have become a nation of low-wage economy” said Edelman. The median income for Americans has been stuck at around $34,000 for 40 years. Many, many Americans are not moving up the ladder and obtaining better pay. And, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a family on this income.

Single mothers with children — the most vulnerable — make up 42 percent of the poor.

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