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The poverty of suburban America

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The Brookings study said that poor residents in cities and suburban poor residents resemble one another demographically and economically. Similar shares of poor residents in cities and suburbs are working age, worked full- or part-time in the past year, held a bachelor’s degree, or lived in deep poverty (with incomes less than half the poverty line).

The Brookings study said that poor residents in cities and suburban poor residents resemble one another demographically and economically. Similar shares of poor residents in cities and suburbs are working age, worked full- or part-time in the past year, held a bachelor’s degree, or lived in deep poverty (with incomes less than half the poverty line).

During the decade 2000-10 in the USA, for the first time the number of poor people in major metropolitan suburbs surpassed the number in cities. Between 2000 and 2011, the poor population in suburbs grew by 64% — more than twice the rate of growth in cities (29%). By 2011, almost 16.4 million residents in suburbia lived below the poverty line, outstripping the poor population in cities by almost 3 million people.

These are some of the grim findings of ‘Confronting Suburban Poverty in America’, a report by the Brookings Institution, and the implications of this report and its contents are that much more significant for Brookings is conservative in its outlook and advocacy.

The Brookings study has explained that some of the rapid growth, over the last decade, of suburban poverty in America’s cities is a result of changing demographic trends. One factor proposed is that many impoverished workers and youth from the inner cities have been chased out by gentrification and the destruction of public housing over the preceding decades and were able to find relatively more affordable housing in the suburbs.

Another factor is the gutting of American manufacturing (the globalisation syndrome and the endless search by the capitalist class to exploit the lowest wage conditions to be found on the planet). This condition drove many to seek unskilled, low-wage work in the service industries (if those prisons of drudgery and mental sterility can be called ‘service’, for they are designed to reduce the mind and diminish the spirit).

During the 2000s in the USA, suburban poverty rose as regional economies declined, the housing market collapsed, jobs continued to sprawl outwards within metropolitan areas while job growth in lower-paying occupations was faster than middle-class job creation. Chart: Brookings

During the 2000s in the USA, suburban poverty rose as regional economies declined, the housing market collapsed, jobs continued to sprawl outwards within metropolitan areas while job growth in lower-paying occupations was faster than middle-class job creation. Chart: Brookings

Suburban poverty has grown steadily in the USA over the last decade, given a sharp impetus by the housing market plunge and subsequent economic crisis. According to the authors of the Brookings study, nearly 75% of home foreclosures have occurred in the suburbs of America. As the website of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has pointed out, the steep fall in property values has had devastating effects for working and even middle class families: last year, a Federal Reserve report revealed that the median net worth of US families had plunged nearly 40 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Workers’ wages, which stagnated throughout 1980s and 1990s, have been under concerted attack through the financial crisis, even as the stock market has recovered and reached new heights. The growth of social misery revealed in the report explodes the myth – widely peddled over previous decades by whichsoever political grouping occupied the White House – that the population living in US suburbs is uniformly complacent and economically secure.

The study has shown that the biggest increase in suburban poverty has occurred in the South and Southwest of the USA. Poverty in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona rose by 134.2%; Las Vegas, Nevada by 139.3%; Austin, Texas by 142.5%; and Atlanta, Georgia by 158.9%. However, there were a number of other cities spread throughout the country, many in former industrial areas, which also saw increases in poverty of 100% or more, including Detroit, Michigan (114.7%), Minneapolis, Minnesota (127.9%), Boise, Idaho (129.7%), Denver, Colorado (138.2%), and Salt Lake City, Utah (141.7%).

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