Poverty Soars in the Suburbs

Lisa McGirr looks at the growing challenge of suburban poverty, which in the last decade has climbed by 25 percent (almost five times faster than cities), and the larger trends that it signifies.
March 20, 2012, 12pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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According to McGirr the effects of this demographic shift are that, "soaring poverty rates threaten the very foundations of suburban identities, suburban politics and the suburb's place in the nation's self-image...The climbing rates of suburban poverty mark a definitive end to the Fordist model of mass production and consumption, and its most internationally recognized poster child: homogeneous middle class families cradled safely in ever expanding suburban developments."

However, as McGirr explains, this traditional image of the suburbs was always somewhat of a fantasy, and its growth was founded on an unsteady terrain of state welfare and private speculation.

According to McGirr, the suburbs are unprepared to dealing with the challenges their residents increasingly face, including gaining access to public services they need, the geographic challenges of decentralized living, and the exodus of the well-to-do for new exurbs and gentrifying urban centers.

And together, these changes and challenges may have a profound effect on the traditional political allegiances and policy demands associated with suburban residents.

"The new poverty may well loosen the suburbs' historic ties to the Republican Party with its emphasis on individualist solutions. Looking toward the future, the new suburban poverty should sound an alarm bell that the suburban "way of life" itself may be better suited to an era now past. It suggests that we should rethink public policies that have long favored homeowners and decentralized living," argues McGirr.

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Published on Monday, March 19, 2012 in The New York Times
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