Photo by Jonathan Meador

November 24, 2010

Moving to the margins

Suburban poverty a growing symptom of recession

As newly emboldened House Republicans vow to block unemployment benefits amid a deepening national recession, a new report reveals that the number of Americans living in poverty in the suburbs has finally eclipsed the number of those experiencing poverty in the inner-city — and that the rate of suburban impoverishment is quickening with such alarming speed that social services are scrambling to catch up.

Using data culled from the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, the Brookings Institution has found the poverty rate jumped from 13 to 14.3 percent in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas between 2007-2009. The number of poor people in large metropolitan areas jumped by 5.5 million between 1999-2009, with two-thirds of that growth occurring in suburbs. Nationally, cities and suburbs alike gained 1.5 million in nouveau poor between 2008 and 2009, which represents the largest increase yet since the Great Recession began.

But what about Louisville?

Although the city and its surrounding suburban communities experienced no change in the poverty rate between 2007 and 2009, further examination of the numbers suggests we haven’t necessarily bucked a bad trend: A similar report released by Brookings in January indicates that, over nearly a decade, the number of people classified as living at or below the poverty threshold ($21,834 for a family of four) increased by roughly the same amount in both Louisville’s urban and suburban neighborhoods. From 2008-2010, the number of people living in poverty in Louisville Metro increased by 16,588 in the city and by 15,787 in the suburbs — nearly the same rate.

Despite a lack of new census data and Louisville’s historic concentration of urban poverty (currently outnumbering its suburban counterpart by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio), social service providers and poverty outreach coordinators say that, increasingly, the help they are providing is to people who’ve never needed it before.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in people who have had sustained employment and income in the past,” says Terri Leasor, an administrator at south Louisville’s Neighborhood Place. “Unfortunately, though, we don’t even think we’re getting the tip of the iceberg. We’re working to get access and outreach to these folks who may not know or be able to access our services.”

Leasor says there are psychological ramifications to unemployment and poverty, and that a person’s ego can get in the way of accurately perceiving their economic needs if they are still in denial about losing a job and have never had to ask for assistance before.

“The neighborhoods that were heavily impacted in the earlier part of the decade, such as west Louisville, there are still high foreclosure rates there,” says Jane Walsh, family success coordinator for Making Connections Network. “But the really dense concentrations of foreclosure filings now are in Shively, PRP, Okolona, J-Town, Bon Air. It’s in first-ring suburban neighborhoods, but also a little further out, as well.”

Others, like the Metropolitan Housing Coalition’s Cathy Hinko, think part of the difficulty in bringing social services to the suburban poor is a matter of affordable transportation.

“As an example, let’s look at the travel (schedule) to apply for LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) and other utility cost assistance,” she says. “Just to get an appointment for LIHEAP, you must show up in person at either 810 Barret or Newburg Community Center or Dixie Highway Government Center between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Then you might get an evening appointment if you request, but no matter what, you have to come back a second time for your actual appointment. Then, if you still need assistance paying a utility bill, you will have to travel to the community ministry — during their hours.

“Suppose you have children under school age or work during the day, both of which can complicate your freedom to travel,” Hinko continues. “Lord help you if you live in the suburbs and do not have your own transportation. It is not easy being a low-income family.”

Ross Hintz, a middle-aged construction worker who relocated to Louisville with his 13-year-old son in July, understands such obstacles. When homebuilding dried up in his native California, Hintz and his son traveled across the country and moved in with his daughter, who lives in the Whispering Hills neighborhood in Okolona. But the cramped living situation — seven adults (only four of whom are employed) and four children — was too much for the father and son.

“I’m Dad, and Dad’s always got something to say, you know?” Hintz says, laughing. “It was too crowded, and I didn’t want to get all up in her business. I wanted to let her live her life so that there’s no animosity between us. We get along and we love each other — there’s no lack of that.”

After losing a temporary job in Bullitt County, Hintz and his son moved into the Volunteers of America’s family emergency shelter once their motel money ran out. As a result, Hintz’s son, who attends Moore Traditional High School, must now endure two hours on the bus each day to attend a school he used to be able to walk to.

“We get up at 5 in the morning,” Hintz says. “It hasn’t been easy at all. I’ve been burned out so many times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt so burnt out and so tired. You just gotta stick with it, you know? I don’t really have a choice. I got my son and I gotta take care of him. I’ve got to take care of myself, too. And if I don’t take care of myself, how can I take care of him?”

Hintz has since found employment in the security industry and hopes he can carpool with co-workers. Otherwise, he’ll continue getting to know the intricacies of his TARC route.

Of the nine families staying at VoA’s family emergency shelter, eight (Hintz included) hail from ZIP codes beyond the Watterson Expressway.

“More and more families are becoming homeless, and many of the families who are becoming homeless today were living in our suburban neighborhoods,” says Jennifer Hancock, vice president of program development for the VoA. “That is a marked increase from prior years.

What’s worse, Hancock says the average duration of a family’s stay at the shelter has doubled from a year ago.

As a result, the perceptions of poverty must change, as well.

“We have defined poverty, and it looks a certain way to us,” says Walsh. “The suburbs, for many people, were a symbol of moving up and out of poverty and onto a new opportunity. Right on the heels of the foreclosure crisis, we’re going to have to have another blow to our self-image as Americans. We have this idea of who we are, and we keep getting whacked upside the head.

“I think we see the kind of chaos it causes in people’s perceptions of themselves and their country,” she continues. “We just saw that in the election, in how fractured we are as a country. I do think that’s part of what we’re seeing: People literally are freaking out, because who are we if we are not people who can attain this dream? If we’re not people who can move on and up to the next best thing, if there’s not something always better around the next corner, if there’s not a manifest destiny, then who the heck are we?” 

My neighborhood in Valley

By briantucker
My neighborhood in Valley Station is really feeling the pain, as was I just recently. Although it has never been a high-income 'hood, people paid the bills and worked hard. Now there are rentals being lost by landlords.

Living on the Margins

By chungkingchungking
Here's part of the real problem with the current poverty and losing the jobs and incomes. We've become a consumer oriented society rather than a production and manufacturing economy. Which means that our prosperity rises and falls with the changes in the consumer economy. People don't have the money to spend, there is little wealth building for the mass majority. The real unemployment rate isn't 10 percent like the mass media wants to tell us. Its much worse than 10 percent and many non mainstream independent economists know that we're looking at unemployment rates in the high teens and low twenties across the nation. When areas of California which is one of our most productive states have 20 percent plus unemployment. This lying about the unemployment rates in the country has been going on for well over 10 years if not many more. The first Bush administration changed the rules and made it that anyone working over 1 hour was considered employed. Now who can afford to live on one hour of work in a week. Something is seriously wrong when you can't find a job of 35 to 50 hours a week. The real poverty problem is a lack of living wage jobs by local employers who pay living wages that one can own a home or rent a decent safe place to live, pay for food, clothing, shelter and be able to save for the future. The current jobs in Louisville out there are nothing more than low wage menial type jobs that won't sustain a family or improve the economy. People can't spend money if they don't have the money to spend which hurts the economy more because money does not circulate in the economy. Until the American people start asking "Where are the jobs?" this horrid mess is going to continue. To start with, someone needs to ask the Metro Council that primary question and the same with the mayor and mayor elect, governor, and the two US Senators. Oh, but those two Senators and the new elected Senator wouldn't care. Its your fault according to them why you can't find a job. It's always the fault of the person who fell upon hard times while millions of US based jobs went overseas to China, Mexico, Vietnam and other countries where the average wage is somewhere near a dollar an hour. Instead of putting 12 to 20 dollar an hour jobs here, the global plantation holders are interested in seeing American suffer while making record profits overseas and then selling the merchandise and goods here for high prices. Furthermore, its time to enact a tax on these imported goods to start to free America from the clutches of those importing these goods which will in turn with high enough tariffs will protect domestic jobs and provide employment since we can make those goods here. All this nonsense you hear about Americans won't do those jobs is pure nonsense and propaganda sold to you by businesses and industry that don't want to pay American wages and would instead rather pay 1 dollar an hour with no benefits, no regulations, and no protections for the workers such as disability for injured workers, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and much more. They've decided to sacrifice the American worker and the American Dream for the excesses of their own capitalist ideology. Same goes for the election of corporatists such as Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Be not fooled by their real motives. Their real motives are to make this country less fair in the realm of economics to benefit those who pay their salaries and bankroll their political campaigns. Do protest, do write your officials at the local level and start holding them accountable and let them know that you're watching their every move and when are they going to start getting jobs, small business, and other employment back into this great city. I go about the city in my travels every day and it amazes me the amount of closed up businesses and former factories that became closed because of foreign labor sources being cheap. Be not fooled by the talk of being uncompetitive, they've wanted this for a long time to globalize the labor forces to cut production costs and now they basically have it that way. This whole debacle is intentional and was put in place to undermine the American middle class and the middle class needs to rise up as they have done before and resist this attack on our shared values.