Suburbia not exempt from economic downturn

Published: Wednesday, June 27 2012 7:29 p.m. MDT

Many residents of suburban communities, once havens for the middle class, are now experiencing a reversal and are asking for assistance from the local food pantries they once donated to.

"The past decade has marked the most significant rise in poverty in modern times," according to an article in The Fiscal Times by Michelle Hirsch. "One in six people in the U.S. is poor, according to the latest census data, compared with one in 10 Americans in 2004. This surge in the percentage of the poor is fueling concerns about a growing disparity between the rich and poor — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, in the parlance of the Occupy Wall Street Movement."

The rise of poverty may not be surprising given the recent economic conditions, but the areas being affected have garnered national attention.

"Contrary to stereotypes that the worst of poverty is centered in urban areas or isolated rural areas and Appalachia, the suburbs have been hit hardest in recent years, an analysis of census data reveals," according to the Fiscal Times article.

"Poverty has been growing in the suburbs for years — along with the population," reports Sabrina Tavernise in a New York Times article. "But the 53 percent increase in poverty far outstripped the 14 percent population increase in the past decade, speeding the change in their status as upper-middle-class enclaves. They have been attracting immigrants following construction jobs and families from cities seeking inexpensive housing as suburbs aged."

Recent statistics and studies indicate just how prevalent poverty is in suburbia and in the United States overall.

"A 2011 study by the Brookings Institute revealed that for the first time in United States history there were more poor people living in the suburbs than in cities," according to an MSNBC article by Izhar Harpaz. "The research, based on the most recent United States Census data, showed that a record 15.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line last year, up 11.5 percent from the year before, and that by 2010, suburbs were home to one-third of the nation’s poor population — outranking cities (27.5 percent), small metro areas (20.5 percent) and non-metropolitan communities (18.7 percent)."

"The need for help may transcend any published statistics, Harpaz said. "Sarah Nelson, the program director at the Sister Carmen Community Center, a nonprofit organization in Lafayette, Colo., that provides financial assistance to low-income families in East Boulder County, said that Sister Carmen’s share of clients from Louisville and Superior rose from 4 percent in 2010 to a whopping 22 percent by the end of 2011. Many of these formerly middle-class families, Nelson said, have struggled under the radar and have not accessed public assistance programs."

"Their resources are drained," Nelson said in the article. "They've utilized all of their savings, all of their retirement funds. Their unemployment's run out. They've gotten as much help from family and friends as they possibly can. And we're their last resort.”

The effects and implications of the rising poverty level are visible across the United States and are a major concern for nonprofit and government officials.

“If you take a drive through the suburbs and look at the strip mall vacancies, the ‘For Sale’ signs, and the growing lines at unemployment offices and social services providers, you’d have to be blind not to see the economic crisis is hitting home in a way these areas have never experienced,” said Donna Cooper, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, in the Fiscal Times piece.

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