The Challenges of Suburban Poverty

March 23, 2015

Poverty is, in many people’s minds, synonymous with densely populated urban areas. But surprisingly, the dense inner city isn’t where many low-income people live today.

Since 2000 the landscape of poverty in America has been shifting, and now the number of low-income individuals living in the suburbs has surpassed the number living in urban areas, with almost 16.4 million people in suburbs living below the poverty line. As a recent report from The Atlantic explains, this trend toward suburban poverty presents some unique challenges.

Adequate, Affordable Housing
Housing prices in inner-city neighborhoods have risen, forcing low-income residents to look elsewhere for affordable housing. At the same time, middle-class suburban residents have begun leaving older suburbs in search of newer houses, leaving older homes—often in dire need of maintenance and repair—vacant and available for low-income families who can’t afford to make the necessary updates.

Jobs with a Living Wage
To make matters worse, many of the jobs available in the suburbs for low-income residents are low-paying and aren’t sufficient to keep up with their rising costs or even the absolute necessities of suburban living.

One of those absolute suburban necessities is transportation. Many of the suburban poor are unable to afford a personal vehicle, but have far fewer public transportation options than are available in a city. The buses and trains that are available run with less frequency than urban systems and end their service schedules early in the evening, making second- or third-shift jobs impossible without a personal vehicle. Lack of transportation also makes daily tasks like grocery shopping or doctor’s appointments very challenging.

Social Service Agencies and Nonprofits
Suburban poverty has increased so rapidly that many communities have not been able to keep up with the demand for services. Social service agencies and nonprofits that help the poor are concentrated in urban areas. The few agencies that are in the suburbs are overstretched and unable to keep up with the steep increase in requests for help.

While most tCI programs serve high-poverty urban communities, some—including this month’s spotlight, Bread of Life Food Pantry in Perth Amboy, New Jersey—are working to provide much-needed services in suburban locations. Please consider making a donation to Bread of Life Food Pantry or to another tCI program to support people in the greatest need.

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