The geography of poverty and commuting

Such is the interconnected world we live in, today I woke to news via Salon of an article reported in the New York Times of the Brookings Institutes launch of ‘Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. As I zeroed in, Red Symons chatted away. Seemed a  little like cheating really.

Here is how authors, Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, introduced the shifting geographies of poverty in America today …

‘Drive about forty-five miles east of San Francisco, tracing a route across the Bay Bridge, through the Caldecott Tunnel outside Oakland, past the wealthy suburbs of central Contra Costa County, and along the California Delta Highway that eventually leads to the state’s Central Valley. There you find a series of communities in transition—from industrial cities to bedroom suburbs, from agricultural lands to residential havens, and from outposts of the middle class to symbols of modern American poverty.

In the 2000s, the number of people living in poverty in East Contra Costa County (“East County”) grew by more than 70 percent—a rapid increase for these relatively small places, but not an isolated one. From Cleveland’s long-struggling inner suburbs, to the immigrant portals south of Seattle, to aging communities surrounding Chicago, or the traditionally affluent Maryland suburbs of the nation’s capital—almost every major metropolitan area in the country has experienced rising poverty beyond its urban core. Despite the fact that “poverty in America” still conjures images of inner-city slums, the suburbanization of poverty has redrawn the contemporary American landscape. After decades of growth and change in suburbs, coupled with long-term economic restructuring and punctuated by the deepest U.S. economic downturn in seventy years, today more Americans live below the poverty line in suburbs than in the nation’s big cities. (Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, Confronting Urban Poverty in America, Chapter 1, pp1-2 2013)

Here’s a potted version of what else they say in the rest of the book from what we can glean from reports of a book still on their shelf, and the sample chapter you can download.

  • ‘Back in the 1960s, tackling poverty “in place” meant focusing resources in the inner city and in isolated rural areas. The suburbs were home to middle- and upper-class families—affluent commuters and homeowners who did not want to raise kids in the city. But the America of 2012 is a very different place. Poverty is no longer just an urban or rural problem but increasingly a suburban one as well’, Brookings Institute.
  • ‘a smaller percentage of workers from suburban areas like Nassau County were commuting to high-paying jobs in Manhattan, and the jobs that were in their hometowns were at shopping malls, in health care and in landscaping, and generally paid less. At the same time, tenants were doubling up and living in illegal apartments’. NY Times
  • ‘while the number of poor people in New York City and Newark declined by 7 percent, or 120,000, the number in the suburbs rose by 14 percent, or 100,000, from 2000 to the census’s rolling 2008-10 American Community Survey’. NY Times
  • Dozens of smaller cities, townships and boroughs registered double- and even triple-digit increases in their poverty rates over the decade. NY Times
  • “It seems like as the city prospered and got more expensive over the 2000s, poverty crept up in a lot of the region’s older suburban communities,” said Mr. Berube to the NY Times
  • Suburbia is now home to more poor residents than central cities, composing over a third of the nation’s total poor population. Unfortunately, the antipoverty infrastructure built over the past several decades does not fit this rapidly changing geography’, Brookings Institute

And here’s why we might think it worth a few minutes thought.

The rise of poverty on the outer fringes is not unique to America. Poverty is on the rise in the suburbs in Melbourne as well. How do we know? Some of the evidence is readily accessible. You can find it here!


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