Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Poor Next Door

From the liberal website Alternet comes this story on Suburbia: Americans unseen poverty. I found this to be particularly interesting:

In fact, however, the gentrification of many urban neighborhoods, from Brooklyn to San Francisco to Washington, has forced many working-class residents out. In a reversal of the classic migration story, many of these displaced residents have fled to the suburbs, lured in part by the growing pool of mostly low-wage jobs there -- cleaning homes, mowing lawns, staffing restaurants, strip malls and office plazas. Alan Berube, co-author of the Brookings Institution study, says the "decentralization of low-wage employment" is one of the main factors driving suburban poverty rates up.

In other words, there is more poverty in the suburbs because more poor people are moving there- in part because of the movement of low-income jobs and in part because of government policies which has pushed them out.

Now let's keep in mind what this article and the reports it cites does not say: They do not say that poverty itself is on the rise, not by any significant margin. What it's saying is poverty is spreading out from it's stereotypical urban confines. One would think this might actually be a good thing, given the negatives associated with concentrations of urban poverty, but this story treats it as more of a looming problem.

Of course, if I'm allowed to go back to this week's theme of "feel-goodism," I wonder if the really uncomfortable fact is not the poverty itself, but the fact that people in suburbia are going to have to deal with it in their back yards. (Just like the town of Brookhaven, New York, where immigrants where evicted for having too many people live in their rented rooms.) This makes poverty more personal to some people, which makes them uncomfortable, but this is precisely the best way that real poverty and real hardship can be dealt with. It should be personal- it shouldn't just be about encouraging your Congressmen to vote for a job killing minimum wage, while blogging from the confines of your upper-class home.

Yes, there are some sad stories to be told here, but the human condition is one of sad stories. That doesn't mean there is a real problem here and that doesn't mean that for the vast majority of Americans our lives are improving year in and year out.


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