Ask the Expert: Alexandra Cawthorne on Suburban Poverty

Why is poverty rising in the suburbs?

Since 2000 the number of poor people in the suburbs has acutally jumped by 37 percent to more than 13.6 million people. There are a number of reasons why poverty has been on the rise over the last decade, including the fact that conditions in inner cities have deteriorated, and that has led many poor people to move outside of the area to surrounding suburbs. Additionally, you have the impact of the recession on folks who already live within the suburbs, and that includes widespread unemployment and job loss as well as declines in real income, and a number of other social and economic factors that have also contributed to the declines in their own well-being.

Why are suburbs particularly unequipped to deal with this rise?

The social safety net is actually stretched much thinner in suburban areas. For one, during the recession the fiscal crisis has completely decimated the funds that a number of social service nonprofits have in the suburbs. Additionally, charitable giving is also directed at cities and not so much the suburbs because of a perception that poverty is much worse in urban areas. Furthermore, the lack of an efficient public transportation system makes an additional barrier for a lot of poor folks living in suburban areas to actually access the social service providers necessary to meet their needs including housing, food, and assistance paying bills.

What can we do about it?

For one, this new trend in poverty should prompt us to change the way that we think about poverty and the people and communities that it impacts. Secondly, it's very important for folks who are able to give, charitable contributions are more important now than ever before considering the impact of the recession on folks who have been poor for some time as well as growing poverty in suburban areas. And lastly, policymakers must work toward breaking down urban and suburban silos and think about innovative regional approaches to poverty that encompass both city and suburb.