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New Report on Poverty Will Surprise You

By David Bloch | 08/13/2014
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The Boston Fed released its semiannual New England Community Survey on Wednesday, which seeks to understand the issues faced by those in poverty through a “survey of service providers’ perceptions of the economic and financial conditions of lower-income communities and individuals in New England and the organizations that serve them.” The focus of this survey was the geographic area with the highest poverty growth-rate in America – the suburbs.

Until recently, the subject of suburban poverty had been largely neglected by policymakers and the media alike. Poverty in America has traditionally been an urban and rural phenomenon. Consequently, the vast majority of our anti-poverty policies are specifically directed towards these areas. The suburbs have always been the cornerstone of the so-called “American Dream,” functioning as bastions of wealth separated from the poverty and resultant social malaise of the cities.

This is no longer the reality, but public perception and policy have been slow to change, if at all. Poverty is now more geographically spread out across regions, as opposed to being concentrated in large urban centers. Economic trends of the past decade, along with the Great Recession, have driven the creation of a new segment of the population on the precipice of entrapment in a new cycle of poverty.

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According to one of the authors of Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, poverty continues to rise in old mid-size Gateway Cities like Brockton, Revere, and Lynn, but traditionally suburban towns like Randolph and Danvers have seen the “fastest growth rates in the suburban poor” as their poor populations more than doubled over the last decade.

The report explains how traditional measures of poverty fail to capture “suburbanites whose earnings are above the FPL (Federal Poverty Line) but still inadequate to cover the high costs of suburban living.” The costs of childcare, transportation, housing, and food usually leave families with very little to spend on anything else, let alone save.

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“The burdens of such “hidden poverty” threaten the long-term economic well-being of the affected families because they continue to be overlooked by policymakers at all government levels.”

The report examines the obstacles and concerns faced by the suburban poor of New England, chief among them the lack of employment opportunities:

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In addition to the higher costs of living and lack of opportunity, the suburban poor more often than not fall through the cracks of the social safety net because they lack the services and infrastructure that the urban poor have access to. Suburban communities are poorly adapted to helping lower income families make ends meet.

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This dangerous situation threatens the suburban poor because, as one survey respondent put it, “It is not possible to escape a vicious circle of poverty related social issues without a viable path to provide for families.”

If society and government do not change the way poverty is perceived and structurally remedied, the problem will only get worse.

h/t The Boston Globe