The stereotypical view of poverty is that it is an urban phenomenon. While poverty certainly is a problem in urban areas, suburbs are being affected as well. In fact, suburbs are generally subject to higher rates of poverty than urban areas. Professor Robert Reilly, Dana professor of sociology, explains further.
As a social scientist, how would you describe the suburbanization of poverty?
Let me provide some context for you; this is old news. Suburban poverty has been going on for 10 to 15 years; it must be getting [the media’s] attention because of the rapidity of the increase. If you look at the data, poverty in general has increased significantly during the recession. The rate of increase is about 2-3 percent while the increase in suburban areas is about 4-5 times that.
Where exactly is the poverty increasing?
There are a few hairs to split. If you look at the layout of a typical city, you have an urban core with a suburban ring, another ring, and then you have exurbs. Beyond the boundaries of the suburban rings in what once were rural areas, development pockets emerged with commercial businesses and malls, which form the exurbs. Suburban poverty in the first outer ring is not new. The new poverty is in outer rings.
Why the increase in poverty in suburbs?
There are several reasons. Poverty increased due to gentrification within urban areas, which forces the impoverished into suburbs because the cost of living is less there. The American labor market has seen a fairly rapid and cataclysmic decline in industrial and manufacturing jobs and an increase in service and information jobs, which pay less and have fewer benefits. Another factor is that debt has spiked, especially housing debt. Many people have overextended themselves and are unable to manage their debt, and their houses have lost equity as well. Also, the safety net is significantly frayed, and states are considering Medicaid cuts as use grows. Finally, the real unemployment rate, which includes unemployed plus discouraged and part-time workers, has caused increases in poverty across the board.
How does the increase in suburban poverty breakdown along racial and ethnic lines?
Generally speaking, racial and ethnic minorities will be disproportionately affected. Families with children headed by women will be profoundly affected.
What steps are being taken to manage the suburbanization of poverty?
Aside from extending unemployment benefits, I’m not seeing very much at the federal and state level to handle these kinds of problems. The American cultural assumption is that if resources are pumped into the top, they will trickle down. There is not much direct help; most of it is flowing into privately based initiatives. Finally, as rates of bankruptcy and foreclosure increase, suburbs will be hit hard. It is a myth that poverty is mainly an urban problem.
-Aaron Adams ’12, Juniata Online Journalist