Suburban Poverty

Segment One: Suburban Poverty


Suburbia 1950s Style



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During the 1950s, young families left urban centers and flocked to the suburbs in search of the American Dream. Having just endured the Depression and then World War II, they were anxious to put those hard times behind them and enjoy the large front lawns, two-car garages and other amenities this (middle class) life style afforded them.

These videos depict suburban life as it was lived when Baby Boomers, people born after World War II, were coming of age. Note: If these videos do not play when you click on the appropriate URL, cut and paste this URL to your address bar.

As is the case with the media today, the advertisements were the message; buy this and you can have the perfect home, just like the characters on the show do.

"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet - The Rivals (1952)." 

"Leave It To Beaver – Wally’s Test”

Suburbia Today

Now, however, the suburban landscape is very different than it was during the 1950s. As economic and social headwinds have worked to push many families out of the middle class or otherwise displaced them, poverty has found its way into cul-de-sacs and side streets. These articles provide some pertinent details:

Chapple, Karen. "Confronting suburban poverty - or celebrating suburban resilience?" urban, 6 June, 2013. Accessed 16 March, 2018.

Kneebone, Elizabeth and Alan Berube. "Suburban Poverty: A Year of Lessons." brookings, 20 May, 2014. Accessed 16, 2018.

"Poverty rates surge in American Suburbs." pbs, 11 Jan., 11, 2014. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Samuels, Alana. "Suburbs and the New American Poverty." theatlantic, 7 Jan., 2015. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Sanburn, Josh. "The Rise of Suburban Poverty in America." time, 31 July, 2014. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

"16 Million Suburban Americans Live in Poverty.", 3 August, 2014. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Swartvagher, Jennifer. "Suburban Poverty, Hidden on Tree-Lined Streets. parenting-blogs.nytimes, 13 Jan., 2015. Accessed 16, 2018.

Wiltz, Teresa. "Ferguson, Other U.S. Suburbs See Poverty Rise." pewtrusts, 26 August, 2014. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

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Causes of Suburban Poverty 



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These articles talk about the economic currents – de-industrialization, the growing pains being experienced by inner ring suburbs, gentrification, the aging of housing stocks in many communities – that are coalescing to make suburban poverty an ongoing trend.

"As Poverty Grows in the Suburbs, Businesses and Governments Confront New Challenges." knowledge.wharton.upenn, July, 2016. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Capps, Kriston. "The Great Recession Cemented Suburban Poverty." citylab, 4 August, 2014. Accessed 27 June, 2017. 

McGirr, Lisa. "The New Suburban Poverty." nytimes, 19 March, 2012. Accessed 27 June, 2017. 

Murphy, Alexandra K. "The Diversity of Suburban Poverty: Challenges and Opportunities Facing the New Geography of American Poverty." guleninstitute, . Accessed 30, June 2017.

Plumer, Brad. "Poverty is growing twice as fast in the suburbs as in cities." washingtonpost, 23 May, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2017.

Wagstaff, Keith. "Why poverty is growing faster in the suburbs than in the city: Urban areas are no longer the country’s main centers of poverty.” yahoo, 20 May, 2013 Accessed June 27, 2017.

Zile, Max Van. "The New Faces of U.S. Poverty." usnews, 6 July, 2016. Accessed 26 Dec., 2017.

School Districts are Strongly Impacted Upon 

by Suburban Poverty

Schools in communities that are experiencing an influx of low income students face considerable challenges/ pressures as they work to accommodate this new demographic. Many school personnel find themselves assuming positions that they are not necessarily trained to handle; teachers, for example, might be obliged to begin acting as social workers.

Meanwhile, middle class parents might be disquieted by the transitions in the public schools and transfer their students to private or parochial schools. As that happens, the community’s social fabric could start to fray. These articles speak to these realities.

Bamforth, Emily. "Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools to offer free breakfast, lunch to all students." cleveland, 12 August, 2016. Accessed 7 April, 2018.

Berube, Alan. "Suburban Poverty and the Diverse Schools Dilemma." brookings, 21 August, 2013. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Brown, Emma, T. Rees Shapiro. "Schools face new challenges as poverty grows in inner suburbs." washingtonpost, 27 Feb, 2015. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Kneebone, Elizabeth. "The Changing Face of Poverty and How It's Impacting Suburban Children." onevoice.pta, 14 Jan., 2014. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Magan, Christopher. "At one suburban school, a 380% increase in poverty - and they're not alone." twincities, 16 Oct., 2015. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Ray, Barbara, "Four in Ten Suburban Public School Students are Low Income." confrontingsuburbanpoverty, July, 2016. Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. "In suburban schools, student poverty growing faster than education aid." ctmirror, 4 May, 2015. Accessed 27 June, 2017.




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Suburban poverty is making its impact felt throughout the country.  And Cleveland is no exception to this general rule. On the contrary, as these articles indicate, its inner ring suburbs are experiencing the same growing pains that are challenging similar communities elsewhere.

Clark, Benjamin Y., "East Cleveland is out of options: Benjamin Y. Clark." cleveland, 14 Jan., 2015. . Accessed 26 March, 2018.

Cleveland Heights/ Lakewood: An Inner Ring Divide.” (a series) cleveland, 15 July, 2016. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

"The Cost of Vacancy - Everybody Pays: Findings on Real Estate Tax Shift in Cuyahoga County as a Result of Housing Abandonment and Foreclosures." s3.amazonaws, 26 July, 2016. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Davis, Dave. "3 out of 4 Cleveland suburbs saw increases in poverty in last decade." cleveland, 25 Jan., 2012. Accessed 26 Dec., 2017.

Exner, Rich. "Cleveland poverty: ranking every Ohio city, county - Census Snapshot." cleveland, 21 Dec., 2017. . Accessed 16 March, 2018.

“The House Next Door” a series. cleveland, August, 2016. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

 Jarboe, Michelle. "Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs still hurting from the housing bust, despite addressing blight." cleveland, 28 Jan., 2018. . Accessed Jan. 28, 2018.

McGraw, Daniel J. "The Complications of our Deteriorating Inner Ring Suburbs." beltmagazine, . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Naymik, Mark. "An inner-ring suburb on the edge, Maple Heights can't offer residents much - not even basketball hoops: Mark Naymik.” cleveland, 21 Oct., 2015. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

“Northeast Ohio First Suburbs Consortium & First Suburbs Development Council.” . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

This organization advocates for inner ring suburbs within the Cleveland Metropolitan area: many of these communities are experiencing escalating poverty rates.

Peizer, Jeremy. "Bankruptcy or annexation appear most likely solutions to East Cleveland's financial woes." cleveland, 8 June, 2015. . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

"Poverty in the Suburbs," nytimes, 24 Oct., 2011. y-in-the-suburbs.html . Accessed 27 June, 2017.

Tavernise, Sabrina."Outside Cleveland, Snapshots of Poverty's Surge in the Suburbs." nytimes, 24 Oct., 2011. Accessed 27 June, 2017.



Outline for the Paper on

Suburban Poverty 

This exam should be at least 850 words in length. Your writing should be concise but clear. Details are essential and examples are always welcomed. Don’t be shy about expressing your opinions. You should present a list of works cited that provides essential information about the sources you utilized in completing this assignment.

You should respond to these questions:

Did anything you read about suburban poverty convince you that this phenomenon “merits” the widespread coverage it has received?

Or, did you conclude that all this attention is nothing more than effort on the part of media outlets to attract viewers/ readers? 

Did you come to believe that some people who are displaced from their employment because of de-industrialization and automation end up joining the ranks of the suburban poor?

Do you think that increasingly more people will be joining the ranks of the suburban poor in the near future?

Might official statistics which list the number of suburban poor as being X fail to account for everybody who belongs in that grouping? In answering these questions, consider the following:

Many (unemployed) suburban residents are probably sleeping on relatives couches or living in their basement. They are, in fact, poor but are not necessarily accounted for in official government statistics; they are essentially invisible.

The median income for American households is about $55,000 a year; that means half the families have an income which exceeds this number while the other half have an income which is lower than this number. Although $55,000 might sound like a lot of money, it is not all that impressive when you consider it has to cover housing expenses, food and transportation. Does that mean many families might be facing economic crunches even if they are not officially counted as being part of the suburban poor?

Families that owe credit card debt owe an average of $15,654 in this type of debt. They might also have a mortgage plus car loans and educational debts.

Do you think that life will become harder for the suburban poor as elements of America’s social service network, including TANF (Temporary Relief for Needy Families), are beginning to unravel?

Model Paper

I hope this model paper for the assignment on Urban Poverty, will give you some helpful guidance as you complete your first assignment. Do not simply copy this model paper; instead, utilize it as a reference/ guideline as you write your own essay.

During the decades after World War II, our country’s suburbs were populated almost exclusively by middle class people who were seeking the American Dream. That ideal had both material – a large lot; house with a white picket fence – and psychological components – a belief that things were good and would soon get even better, thanks to hard work.

Now, however, a new dynamic has come to the suburbs. Research conducted by the Brookings Institute, a think tank, concluded that between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor residents in the suburbs of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas grew by 64 percent. That figure represents more than twice the rate experienced within inner city areas. In other words, a major transition that involved literally millions of people – a cultural makeover worthy of note – took place.

 Low estimates

And depending upon how you define “poverty” these figures might actually be low, failing to take into account the number of suburbanites who are financially stressed in the extreme. If somebody does not have a roof over their head or anything to eat, they would be considered “poor” by anybody’s definition.

But what about the literally millions of (suburban) Americans who are heavily in debt, a paycheck or a car repair away from serious trouble? They might look as if they are enjoying a middle class lifestyle, but their hold on this world is at least somewhat precarious.

An Atlantic article notes that about half of all Americans, some of whom live in upscale neighborhoods, could not come up with $400 to handle an emergency. Might these inividuals be considered poor - for whatever that word might mean - even though official government statistics do not place in this category? It is hard to know.

Reasons why the numbers are growing

The fact that the suburban poor are growing in numbers is hardly surprising when you consider the following:

A confluence of factors have caused many suburbanites to fall out of the middle class: the loss of manufacturing jobs (de-industrialization); income stagnationthe outsourcing of jobs; digitalization (computers taking jobs people formerly held).

Another consideration: Gentrification, the movement of more affluent people into inner city communities, has resulted in long-term residents of these neighborhoods being priced out of their homes. Seeking affordable housing, many of these individuals moved to inner ring suburbs where homes that are considered outdated have become reasonably priced.

 Poverty can be invisible

No matter how you chose to define poverty or what you figure might be causing it, however, one thing remains certain. Even if the poverty rate in a suburb rises over the years, individuals who met up with hard times often remain essentially invisible. For example, census data indicates that the poverty rate in Cleveland Heights, Ohio is about 20 per cent.

Yet, you could walk around sections of that city, such as the Cedar Lee shopping strip, and not see anything but people who look well groomed, well dressed and well fed. Appearances can be deceiving, but virtually none of the visitors to this strip seem weighted down by economic strains. Rather, they walk with a smile on their ace and an assured pace and carriage as they go to restaurants or to the cinema.

Another consideration: The public schools are often places where children/ families of all shapes, sizes and economic means come into contact with one another. They can be a cohesive force that binds a community together. No group remains invisible to another group.

But they do not seem to be serving that purpose in the Cleveland Heights/ University Heights School District. Rather, this district has a very high percentage of students who attend private/ parochial schools.


The fact that it is poorly ranked by the State of Ohio seemingly serves as an impetus for parent who can afford this option to send their children elsewhere. And when they make that decision, their children probably have little contact with the children who attend the public schools.

Some personal observations

I have long volunteered at a food pantry that serves Cleveland Heights and adjacent communities. During this period of time, several things have become clear to me, as I have witnessed suburban poverty first hand. Here are some of the observations I have made.

 A Good Presentation

Many of the clients at the center are amazingly well dressed. I do not honestly know if struggling to put a “pretty face forward to the world” is more intrinsic to suburban poverty than it is to poverty anywhere else. In any case, however, the fact that these individual look as if life is treating them well comes blaring out to me.

And if somebody, turning a bit skeptical, asks me, “Why don’t those clients buy food instead of spending their money on clothes? If they can afford to dress well, why are they coming into the hunger center?” I really do not know how I would respond to those questions.

Clients Are Working and Must Be Good Record Keepers

Many of the families that come into the center do work but likely do not make enough money to meet their nutritional needs. How would I know such a thing? Well, a large number of them come into the facility wearing work clothes. Also, the center becomes particularly crowded when it is open in the evening outside of normal business hours– after five o’clock pm.

Then, there is the fact that to receive allotments from the center people are obliged to show, among other things: their children’s birth certificates; bills from utility or other official correspondences proving that they live at an address the center is designated to serve. Clearly, these individuals have to be very efficient record keepers; in a very real sense, they have to work for what they get from the place.