Poverty Threatens The Suburbs

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Poverty is supposed to be primarily an urban problem. Many believe cities are home to the chronically unemployed and minorities and young people, who traditionally find it hard to get jobs in a recession.

In theory, people in the suburbs are more well-to-do and better able to keep jobs, or find them fairly quickly when they lose them.

The Brookings Institution says the suburbs are no longer safe from the poverty and low wages that unemployment bring. The think tank released research on relatively new trends:

In 1999, large U.S. cities and their suburbs had roughly equal numbers of poor residents, but by 2008 the number of suburban poor exceeded the poor in central cities by 1.5 million. Although poverty rates remain higher in central cities than in suburbs (18.2 per­cent versus 9.5 percent in 2008), poverty rates have increased at a quicker pace in suburban areas.

Tight money has cut parts of the social safety networks in the suburbs. A drop in the property tax base and income taxes have made matters worse.

The rise in poverty in the suburbs has already had many consequences, the most important of which is a drop in homes prices. Suburban homes are usually more expensive than those in the cities.  Impoverished homeowners are more likely to default on mortgages. That, in turn, pushes home prices further down, which undermines the housing market recovery America so desperately needs.

Rising suburban poverty also causes layoffs within charitable organizations such as churches and other support groups. That means the poor have less access to help. A vicious circle which may not have been as obvious as it is in big cities has already begun.

The suburbs are apparently no longer the pockets of affluence which they once were.  This underscores the egalitarian nature of the recession as more and more Americans try to navigate the treacherous waters of the economy using the same boat.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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