Just when you think you finally are beginning to understand the issues you’ve worked on for much your career, new research comes along that turns everything you thought you knew upside down and serves as powerful reminder to look beyond conventional wisdom. That was the experience I had while preparing to keynote a Brookings Institution session last week on suburban poverty.
The occasion was the publication of an important new book by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube called Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. @ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/opinion/cul-de-sac-poverty.html?hp&_r=0
Most of us have mental images of poverty concentrated in urban areas and hard to reach rural communities. But what the authors found is that one in three poor Americans now live in the suburbs and that the pace has been growing so fast that in a number of regions- like Chicago, Houston, Seattle - the rates of poverty in the suburbs are now actually greater than the rates of poverty in the city.
But the authors also found that anti-poverty programs haven’t evolved accordingly. “Policies to help poor places – as opposed to poor people – haven’t evolved much beyond the War On Poverty’s neighborhood-based solutions.” Federal programs designed for urban areas, ranging from Community Health Centers to Promise Neighborhoods – are ill-suited for suburbs where poverty is more diffuse and services scattered.
Americans living in poverty have always found themselves to be vulnerable, voiceless, and often invisible to policymakers. As poverty has dissipated from our cities to our suburbs that has become even more the case. Kneebone and Berube have written an original and important book that gives voice to their needs.