October 14, 2010

Decentralizing Povery, Jobs

From the WashPo: Suburbs take hit as US poverty climbs in downturn

The article draws its findings from this report by the Brookings Institute.

Increases in suburban poverty increase the need to improve the suburbs by allowing for greater diversity of uses. And because I just took a practice math GRE, I'm in a quantitative mood, so lemme spell (ha) it out:

(People) + (auto-dependent environments) + (poverty) + (Lack of diversity in housing stock) + (Aging/decaying housing stock) = (People) - (mobility) - (quality housing) + (poverty)

= increasingly deep morasses for impoverished folks to climb out of. Le suck.

The data:

The article acknowledges one way in which the suburban built environment poses obstacles to the poor that the city does not: the lack of density makes obtaining social services difficult.
Suburban nonprofit groups were often spread across multiple counties, cities or townships. That made it difficult to coordinate services across sprawling areas or obtain funding, compared to cities where poverty was more concentrated. 
Other than this finding, the article chalks up most of the suburban poverty shift to the recession. The recession, while it may explain why there are more poor people, cannot alone explain why being poor in the suburbs may be worse than being poor in the city. One would need to take the built environment into account--transportation networks, housing stock, and location/availability of social services.

A different report by Brookings suggests that the decentralization of employment opportunities--jobs moving from city centers to edge and edgeless cities--may be driving the suburbanization of poverty (see also here). The poor follow the jobs: the 07-08 housing/easy credit boom must have facilitated the following of said jobs, and/or provided its own independent decentralizing pressure. The report also notes that poor minority groups are less likely to settle in suburbs with good access to jobs. It's a sobering summation, and an effective conclusion for this post:

Together, these findings strongly suggest that employment decentralization is helping to drive the suburbanization of poverty. However, the responsiveness of the poor to job sprawl is not as strong as it is for the population as a whole. Furthermore, when the poor reach the suburbs, they are more likely to live in jobs-poor areas that are frequently lower income and more disadvantaged—and potentially indistinguishable from disadvantaged central city areas. These patterns are sharpest for the black and Latino poor, and they are consistent with prior research documenting that racial and ethnic minorities have driven population growth in lower-income suburban areas characterized by weaker employment growth and lower access to good-paying jobs.

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