Five Lessons from Leading Innovators on Confronting Suburban Poverty

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Metro Blog, The Avenue

Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube

In September we reported that suburbs in our nation’s largest metro areas had seen their poor population grow by 66 percent since 2000, making them home to the largest and fastest growing poor population in the country.

However, the past year also offered important lessons about effective approaches to the new geography of poverty. Through a series of briefs, practitioners from across the country shared their firsthand perspectives on the innovative models they helped to launch to confront the rise of suburban poverty in their regions. In some ways, each of the four models described in these briefs is unique. They come from different parts of the country and tackle different facets of the complex issues suburbs face in the context of growing poverty:
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Fighting Poverty at Tax Time through the EITC

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Metro Blog, The Avenue

Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes

With tax season around the corner, thousands of certified volunteer programs across the country are gearing up to offer free tax return preparation services to millions of low- and moderate-income taxpayers, military families, people with disabilities and seniors.

In addition to free tax assistance, many of these programs invest in outreach and education efforts to make sure residents in their community know about important tax provisions they may qualify for, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. Both of these credits for low-income working families are refundable, meaning that if the credit exceeds the taxes owed, filers can receive the remainder as tax refunds. Together, these two provisions keep millions of workers and their families out of poverty each year.
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The Growing Demand for Home Health Care Workers in the Suburbs Raises Housing and Transportation Challenges

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Nurse and elderly man spending time together --- Image by © Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Blend Images/Corbis

Kathleen Costanza and Sarah Jackson

As a home health aide, Jasmine Almodovar earns $9.50 an hour. Though she spends her days providing care for senior citizens, she doesn’t have health insurance of her own—much less life insurance or a retirement plan.

“We work really long hours, really hard work,” Almodovar recently told NPR in a story about home health workers in suburban Cleveland. “A lot of us are barely home because if we don’t go to work, we don’t get time off. We don’t get paid vacations. And some of us haven’t had raises in years.”

Almodovar is part of the rapidly growing home health care workforce that’s caring for aging baby boomers who want to stay put in their suburban homes. The US Department of Labor estimates approximately 1 million more home health jobs—comprising home health aides and personal care aides—like Almodovar’s will be needed in the next decade.
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Planning for an Aging (Suburban) Society

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Barbara Ray

There’s another housing crisis on the horizon—but this one isn’t derivative driven. Instead, it’s driven by aging. By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older—and their homes and communities, particularly suburban communities, aren’t ready for them.

Most older Americans prefer to stay put in the home they’ve been in for years. And, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report on “aging in place,” most households with at least one resident over the age of 65 are in the suburbs. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey wrote in 2011, “the suburbs are now outpacing cities in having greater growth and concentration of populations age 45 and above.”

Yet several factors make aging in place in the suburbs difficult.
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Grassroots Organizing in Suburbs to Prevent Another Ferguson

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Sarah Jackson

Lorna Francis, a single mom and hairdresser profiled recently in the New York Times, doesn’t vote often. She’s busy raising her daughter and working to afford the rent on her “well groomed suburban cul-de-sac.” And, according to the Times, she’s part of a wave of new working-class black residents in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia, who don’t have the means or time to run for local municipal office, or to get involved in politics.

So although the city is now majority African American, it’s represented by mostly white city council members. Conyers is in Rockdale County, which has undergone a demographic shift since 2000. The county’s share of black residents jumped from 18 to 46 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The police force is still mostly white as well. And although life has been relatively peaceful in Conyers, experts say these representation imbalances can lead to long-term tensions like those we saw erupt in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer after a white police officer shot an unarmed African American teenager. Read More

Behind the “Poor Door” Controversy: Inclusionary Zoning Policies in Cities and Suburbs

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Barbara Ray

Affordable housing is in the news these days as New York City makes headlines for its efforts to build more housing at affordable rents. Whether it’s the “poor door” controversy or the de Blasio administration’s push to mandate developers to include affordable units in every development, a widespread and growing problem is coming into focus.

The “poor door” has set off a wave of criticism because the affordable units are in a separate section from the rest of the luxury high-rise, and low-income residents must enter through a separate door. They also do not have equal access to the building amenities. The reason for the separate entrance, developers argue, is cost.

As the president of the development company told the New York Times, having the affordable apartments incorporated into the condominium tower would have meant “giving away” the most valuable units.

“We wouldn’t be able to do affordable,” he said. “It wouldn’t make any financial sense.” Read More

Food Insecurity Persists Despite Economic Recovery

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Barbara Ray

It’s been more than five years since the Great Recession officially ended. The stock market is rising and the unemployment rate is falling, yet poverty remains stubbornly high and millions of Americans still can’t afford the food they need to feed their families. According to two new reports by the USDA and Feeding America, many families, including a growing number of suburban families, must choose between food and other basic needs like paying rent, transportation, or medical care.

Since 2008, according to the USDA report, the share of households that in the prior month cut back on the size of their portions, skipped meals, ran out of food before payday, or couldn’t afford to feed their families balanced meals has been stuck at approximately 14 percent. In 2003, before the recession began, approximately 11 percent of households were “food insecure,” as the USDA defines it. For most of these families, food insecurity was not a fleeting experience. Most were struggling for at least seven months in the year. Read More

New Census Data Show Few Metro Areas Made Progress Against Poverty in 2013

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According to an analysis of 2013 American Community Survey, four years into an economic recovery, most major metro areas had yet to make progress toward reducing poverty to pre-recession levels. Where gains did occur, they tended to happen in big cities, further accelerating a long-term trend in the suburbanization of U.S. poverty and the challenges that accompany it.

Read the new report>>

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Homepage photo credit: Flickr user @waitscm

Homelessness among Students Is Up Sharply in the Suburbs

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Barbara Ray

In 2010, Penny Scrivner, a retired Greyhound bus driver, had a new job. Every morning, she swung by motels, abandoned cars, and street corners to pick up homeless children for school.

“I’ve picked up kids waiting on street corners,” she told the Oregonian in 2010. “They don’t have an address. I just know they’ll be standing there waiting.”

That morning she pulled over to an apartment building, where a family was living temporarily, to pick up a group of siblings.

“Penny,” one of the girls asks after the door shuts, “can I have a hug?”

“Oh, honey,” Scrivner says, “yes you can.” Read More

Ferguson, Mo. Emblematic of Growing Suburban Poverty

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Cross-posted on Brookings’ Metro blog, The Avenue

Elizabeth Kneebone

Nearly a week after the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., protests continue in the 21,000-person suburban community on St. Louis’ north side and around the nation.

Amid the social media and news coverage of the community’s response to the police shooting of the unarmed teenager, a picture of Ferguson and its history has emerged.

The New York Times and others have described the deep-seated racial tensions and inequalities that have long plagued the St. Louis region, as well as the dramatic demographic transformation of Ferguson from a largely white suburban enclave (it was 85 percent white as recently as 1980) to a predominantly black community (it was 67 percent black by 2008-2012). Read More