Like a lot of other things in our America these days, poverty ain’t what it used to be. It’s not where it used to be. It’s not who it used to be. And we in the West are among the prime statistical examples of the “new” poverty that seems to be under most people’s radar.
When we think of poverty – if we do – the picture that normally comes to mind is inner city or some of the smaller, mostly rural communities around us. Not so, McGee. Suburban poverty is the fastest growing segment of poor in America – up 64% in the last decade.
Brookings Institution has a new book out – “Confronting Suburban Poverty In America.” Using Census Bureau records and other numeric profile sources, the bottom line is this: almost 16.4 million suburban residents now live below the poverty line with just under three-million more in cities.
Check out the numbers for our region’s largest population areas. In the last decade, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs of Seattle has increased 78.9% – Portland 99.3% – Boise 129.7% – Las Vegas 139.3% and Salt Lake City up 141.7%!
Co-author Elizabeth Kneebone found many reasons for this silent shifting of people below the official poverty line of $23,021 income per year.
“As wealthier folks moved to the suburbs,” she says, “a lot of companies did, too. Following along, people from inner cities looking for jobs joined the quiet parade. Service sector was a major employer but most workers were paid minimum wage or slightly higher.” Then the bottom fell out.
When the “great recession” came along, many of those jobs disappeared. Lower income folks were stuck. Businesses closed, unemployment went up and formerly middle class families started to slide down the economic ladder into poverty.
Compounding this new and growing problem has been a government that’s kept directing resources to the inner cities where poverty has historically existed. As people being served moved out to the ‘burbs, the programs didn’t move with them. Now, with our damned sequestration, agencies that have been providing the “safety net” are both miles away and losing their own funding. So, people at or near the poverty level fled inner cities to follow the jobs but the government support resources didn’t. Now they can’t.
As is the case with so many other “people” programs, the faces of Americans feeling real pain – and hunger – are unseen by members of the most disgraceful Congress in recent American history. Between crippling gridlock and sequestration – neither of which are being addressed – millions of people are losing employment, losing homes, losing whatever savings they may have had and – in too many cases – going hungry.
What the hell does it take to get 535 people making $174,500 a year each – plus travel and expenses – to get off their asses and back to work to stop the suffering in this country for the millions of Americans who make less than $23,021 a year?
The poverty that used to be out there – inner cities and small, rural communities – is now in America’s vaunted suburbs. People – strangers – who need our help to have shelter and food – have gone from over there to here – right next door.
Life – however tough – goes on. Out of sight and out of mind for those we elected to take care of things.
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