The New Poverty

If we go by the usual stereotypes, we think poverty exist only in certain major cities such as Chicago south and west side, South Central Los Angeles, the 5th Ward in Houston, Texas, Bronx, New York, etc. Yes there is a population that truly lives in poverty in these cities. For some, it’s even been a generational curse, passed on from several decades ago that started in the early 1900’s and remain present for families now in 2015. But there’s one place that gets ignored each and every time when discussing poverty; a place that’s outside of major cities and not able to deal with the influx of the poor. In the past, it was designed for families of the middle class to escape residing around the poor in the inner cities: the suburbs!

clientsDemo2014In the past, the suburbs were known as the “you made it” signature, meaning you’re successful in life because you now reside in an area that many people can’t afford. You’re of the Middle Class and possibly on your way to upper class or already there. The suburbs were supposed to be home to the good schools, manicured lawns, and quiet streets. Not anymore. An epidemic has occurred. The suburbs are now the home to the poor, low-income working class who find themselves stranded without access to transit for employment or other resources. How did this occur and when did this take place?

Across the United States, almost 16.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line between the years 2000-2011. That’s an increase of 159%. To me, poor people living in the suburbs isn’t so much the bad thing. The bad thing is the lack of jobs, access to jobs, affordable housing, and nurturing schools. For some odd reason, many in power are surprised at how the suburbs have changed over the years but many aren’t taking accountability of having a strong hand in the decline.

House prices have become so expensive in the inner-city that it purposely pushes many low-income families to the suburbs. The lower economic class moved to the suburbs with housing vouchers but that was it. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, 79% of housing vouchers were used in the suburbs. So basically, the concentrated poor or low-income working class were moved to an area that lacked more resources than what they previously had living in the city. Some say, “Well at least they received housing vouchers”! Really? There is so much more to consider.

20140416_144248Lack of resources will help poverty thrive. How can one get to their job if they relied on public transportation in the past and there’s no transit system that’s reliable? How can a person make a living if they are pushed to an area where businesses don’t exist? How can a person receive any mental or psychological assistance if three quarters of suburban nonprofits are seeing clients with no previous connection to safety-net programs? Funding streams are drying up and more funding will be cut. The suburbs are becoming overwhelmed with demand. We are now dealing with the working poor as our neighbors.

Many Americans, who live in half-million to over a million dollar homes, are just one paycheck away from poverty. Actually, one CRISIS away from experiencing poverty and many don’t even know it. According to CFED’s Assets and Opportunities Scorecard, nearly half of households in the US have less than three months’ worth of savings. What causes poverty? Besides generational curse: events, crisis, and other traumatic and unexpected financial events.

What are my recommendations to decrease suburban poverty? Create bus lines, affordable and low-interest car loans, free English courses, variety of school programs, more jobs in suburban areas, and financial literacy education. The majority who are considered poor or low-income don’t want handouts as some might believe. They want the opportunity to improve their circumstances, particularly in housing and financially, because they will take advantage of programs being offered. The programs must be offered so they can have access, not be pushed away from the resources, as what has happened with the suburban poverty epidemic in the last 10 years. This can’t be the American Way. Or can it be?

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs