The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development produces a host of data directly useful for assessing social conditions. Do we need a supercomputer to connect rising inequality and the stacked economic gains of the rich with suburban poverty and downward mobility?
Notes for individual countries are found on the OECD site (.pdf files):
Better than many for a long time but no reason to be smug: Canada
Faltering after some improvement: United Kingdom
Forget it, only Turkey & Mexico are worse for income inequality: United States
Some improvement but could do better: Australia
The mass appearance of one begat the other and so we find the fate of the middle class and the fate of suburban life conjoined in a fashion that would have given Eng and Chang Bunker a good fright. You could not have had one without the other. Moving forward into the Long Emergency and a world of expensive petroleum, general resource depletion, traumatic economics, badly impaired credit/financial systems and shock doctrines we may end up losing much of both suburbia and its most loyal customers. Leave it to The Atlantic Monthly to be a source of timely content for us yet again.
Can the Middle Class Be Saved?
“The Great Recession has accelerated the hollowing-out of the American middle class. And it has illuminated the widening divide between most of America and the super-rich. Both developments herald grave consequences. Here is how we can bridge the gap between us.”Elizabeth Warren is an academic expert with a specialty in credit law and consumer debt/bankruptcy issues. She was in the documentary Maxed Out and the link below takes you to a presentation she gave in 2008. 57 minutes that will open your eyes. If you have the stomache for the details of the destruction of the middle class in America block out the time. Seriously, this wonderful, articulate, compassionate and very smart woman should be the president of the USA, not that nice, utterly feckless Obama guy.
The coming collapse of the middle class
The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine published a paper this July describing problems associated with addiction services in suburban areas. This is the kind of piece that expands our understanding of what suburban poverty means in a needed, detailed way. Much of the discussion of low density, ex-urban life focusses on matters of land use, environmental sustainability, energy, politics, taste and aesthetics. We are now long beyond the point where social realities need to be considered on an equal footing with the physical design of communities.
Suburban Poverty: Barriers to Services and Injury Prevention among Marginalized Women who Use Methamphetamine
The working poor and immigrants were drawn to suburbs and Edge Cites during the real estate boom. After the crash, these groups are stranded in dispersed locations where social services and jobs tend to be thin on the ground. Enormous stress is created for vulnerable people when, for example, they try to access food banks on foot or via public transit. When they get to a resource they may then find it struggling for resources as well. Rapid growth in suburbia during the boom often resulted in under-funding of social services or reliance on uneven private, charitable efforts. The perception of poverty as an urban or inner city social ill also distorts responses and, like the Great Recession that sponsors so much of it, is not really going away fast. This podcast is about 15 minutes and refers to recent Brookings findings.
Next American City » Metro Matters Podcast » The Suburban Poor: An Interview with Elizabeth Kneebone and Scott Allard.
It looks like 2008 was the tipping point for suburban poverty. In that year of crashing global trade and high financial disaster awareness of suburban poverty started going mainstream. It had always been there of course but joblessness, the mortgage bomb and the high cost of energy mean more people are sharing in it. Media coverage of reports from the Brookings Institution and ongoing coverage of unemployment and foreclosures made for some grim reading for Americans. The socio-economic and structural arrangements of suburban living appear to be contracting all over the United States and in other communities around the world. One of the most substantial pieces representing this awareness of great change ran in The Atlantic Monthly in March of 2008. This feature article shows just how timely and powerful good magazine journalism can be. Required reading if you want to know where it’s all going.
The Next Slum? The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg.
Fundamental changes in American life may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.
Brookings Institution has followed its earlier papers on suburban poverty with several worthy efforts.
Below is a link for downloading their October 2010 paper about the difficulties facing social services in suburbia after the economic crash of 2008. Tough times in America for the working poor: with implications for understanding experiences in other countries including Canada and the UK. The paper includes statistical evidence on reported incomes and includes ‘on-the-ground’ impressions from three major urban-suburban agglomerations. Part of the ‘Metropolitan Opportunity’ series.
Suburban safety nets rely on relatively few social services organizations, and tend to stretch operations across much larger service delivery areas than their urban counterparts.
This second link, to a University of Chicago page, includes video from one of the authors and some links to mainstream media coverage.
Poverty grows in suburbs, but social services don’t keep up
Usually where there is a homeless population of any size there will appear at least one weekly charity newspaper sold by the homeless and focussing on that issue. The idea is to restore some measure of positive socio-economic activity to the life of people in severe difficulty. In Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, the police have apparently cited individuals for selling a paper called The Contributor. I thought they had a Constitution down there?
Even the home of ‘parenting & babytalk’ is in on suburban poverty. Our editorial staff were concerned that this blog’s content sources might thin out more quickly than anticipated. Doesn’t look like this will be a problem.