Poverty comes to suburbia
Presidential candidates are not addressing this problem, partly because it's so new but also because the suburbs of America have always been left pretty much alone by government.
But census data showing a worrying spike in suburban poverty threatens to upend our politics and change the nature of American society in ways that we cannot begin to understand.
The past decade has marked the most significant rise in poverty in modern times. One in six people in the U.S. are poor, according to the latest census data, compared to one-in-ten Americans in 2004. This surge in the percentage of the poor is fueling concerns about a growing disparity between the rich and poor - the 99 percent versus the 1 percent in the parlance of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
But contrary to stereotypes that the worst of poverty is centered in urban areas or isolated rural areas and Appalachia, the suburbs have been hit hardest in recent years, an analysis of census data reveals. "If you take a drive through the suburbs and look at the strip mall vacancies, the 'For Sale' signs, and the growing lines at unemployment offices and social services providers, you'd have to be blind not to see the economic crisis is hitting home in a way these areas have never experienced," said Donna Cooper, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.
In the wake of the Great Recession, poverty rolls are rising at a more rapid pace in the suburbs than in cities or rural communities. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of suburban households below the poverty line increased by 53 percent, compared to a 23 percent increase in poor households in urban areas, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of census data.
Last year, there were 2.7 million more suburban households below the federal poverty level than urban households, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was the first time on record that America's cities didn't contain the highest absolute number of households living in poverty.
The suburbs have long been a bastion of conservative Republicanism. But if these trends continue, the political scales will tip toward Democrats and their advocacy for larger government programs to feed, house, and clothe the newly poor.
The movement of peoples is the underlying story of America. To the frontier, going west, from south to north, to the suburbs, and to the sunbelt, the reoccurring narrative of America has been people on the move to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Where will people go now?