Suburban poverty is a relatively new phenomenon. For the past 60 or so years, the suburbs have traditionally represented the American Dream. Work hard, play by the rules, and it'll all be yours– the crisp lawn, white fence, two-car garage, little league practice, backyard tree-house, etc — and your kids will have it even better.
It is fitting then that, in an era when the American Dream seems more cliche political-convention-nostalgia than reality, the symbol of that Dream is not only itself rusting, but also fueling the economic downturn.
We all know the story by now: The good times of the late '90s spurred the housing boom; lenders showed a whole new consumer base that they, too, could have the crisp lawn, white fence, two-car garage, little league practice, backyard tree-house, etc. But as banks handed out loans like Cosco samples, people bought houses that should have been out of their price range. Then the market collapsed, adjustable rate mortgages skyrocketed, people lost their jobs, and many homeowners were stuck with monthly payments that, if they were lucky, gobbled up only half of paychecks.
Suddenly, unemployment checks and free school lunches were suburban staples.
A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has quantified that trend: Over the last decade, the number of Bay Area residents living in poverty rose twice as fast in suburbia than in urban areas, mirroring a nationwide shift.