Eyal Press has an article in The Nation, “The New Suburban Poverty,” noting a demographic milestone that should elicit the attention of Democratic campaign strategists:
For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined.
The implications for political strategy in federal, state and local elections are substantial. In terms of policy, it means elected officials and political aspirants will have to rethink the delivery of needed social services to less dense areas. Funding those services adequately will be an increasing concern in the years ahead, especially for the growing number of middle class families who have fled the cities, expecting lower property taxes.
In terms of election strategy, Party leaders and candidates will have to rethink everthing from redistricting to GOTV logistics. It also requires some mental housecleaning regarding existing stereotypes of suburban life, as Press notes:
Stories of downward mobility in America’s suburbs have not exactly cluttered the headlines over the past decade. Gated communities of dream homes, mansions ringed by man-made lakes and glass-cube office parks: These are the images typically evoked by the posh, supersized subdivisions built during the 1990s technology boom. Low-wage jobs, houses under foreclosure, families unable to afford food and medical care are not. But venture beyond the city limits of any major metropolitan area today, and you will encounter these things, in forms less concentrated–and therefore less visible–than in the more blighted pockets of our cities perhaps, but with growing frequency all the same.
And it’s not just the inner ‘burbs, as Press explains:
Last December the Brookings Institution published a report showing that from Las Vegas to Boise to Houston, suburban poverty has been growing over the past seven years, in some places slowly, in others by as much as 33 percent. “The enduring social and fiscal challenges for cities that stem from high poverty are increasingly shared by their suburbs,” the report concludes. It’s a problem some may assume is confined to the ragged fringes of so-called “inner ring” suburbs that directly border cities, places where the housing stock is older and from which many wealthier residents long ago departed. But this isn’t the case. “Overall…first suburbs did not bear the brunt of increasing suburban poverty in the early 2000s,” notes the Brookings report, which found that economic distress has spread to “second-tier suburbs and ‘exurbs'” as well.
Savvy demographic and polical analysts have seen this trend coming for a while. Still, the milestone should ring a few bells in the war rooms of Democratic political campaigns. We’ll resist the temptation to quote more of Press’s excelent article — a must-read for those who want a more realistic vision of America’s political geography.
Let’s be real here. Our Dems should have re-thought their poverty strategy a long time ago, but the suburbs is not the place to start. They’ve been on the easy side of the street for a long time. Rather, the people who haven’t even seen the easy side of the street are the ones that Thomas Frank wrote about in his book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” The poorest county in the country is in the panhandle of western Nebraska, and all but six of the 250 poorest counties in the country are in rural areas. Rural households earn an average of 27 percent less than their urban counterparts and the poverty rate is 21 percent higher than in metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, we spend 25 percent less on rural students than we do on urban students, and — the frosting on the cake, all some of our “liberals” can do is moan about rich farmers. Well, WRONG!! This is the first year in literally decades that corn prices are actually covering the cost of production. Still, all too many rural residents are poor, isolated from medical care, and distanced from modern communication — less likely to be able to access broadband and even less likely to have it in their homes. Their low resource media — the weekly papers in their small towns — cover the high school sports, weddings, the obits and the press releases of their right wing conservative representatives. And what do we Dems do? We worry about the suburbanites — the people who have it easier than anyone else in this country? Well NO … I think not.
I live in a suburban area that has seen the problems commonly associated with urban areas, declining education scores, crime, dropping property values etc, become more common. I have started referring to our community not as suburban, but as an urban adjunct area. We, as Democrats, have to realize the problems are not urban problems only any longer. A statement one of my political science profs made when I was in college was “As goes the urban center, so goes the urban area.” It is even more true today than then. Answers will only be found when we start a dialogue.