The face of poverty in Chicago suburbs is no longer what you might think

If the suburbs once represented the American dream, recent poverty numbers show it may be time to reconsider the concept.  The suburbs once symbolized a certain level of financial success and comfort, while cities were where most of the nation’s poor lived. Now the suburbs seem to have caught up.

In fact, since 1990 there has been a 95 percent increase in the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs. The shift has occurred because of a complex set of factors, including a rise in low-wage jobs, a drop in incomes and slow educational gains.

The numbers are from a recent study by the Social IMPACT Research Center, a program of the Chicago-based social service and advocacy non-profit Heartland Alliance. The study found a 50/50 split between low-income people who live in the city and in the suburbs, compared to a 66/34 split in 1990.

Every racial group, both in the city and the suburbs, has seen some increase in poverty since 1990. But people in the suburbs are getting poorer at a significantly faster rate than in the city, and minority poverty rates have been nearly twice as high as those for whites. The poverty rate in the suburbs for whites was 7 percent in 2011 – while it was 13, 19 and 22 percent, respectively, for foreign-born, native-born Latino and African-American residents.

Check out the graphics from the Social IMPACT Research Center below:



The Social IMPACT study paints a dismal picture of the struggle against poverty, both now and in the future. Levels of poverty in Chicago remain high, even with social services like food banks and Head Start, which are under strain but still in place.

Meanwhile, the suburbs have little or no infrastructure to tackle poverty, the report found. If poverty numbers in the suburbs are ever going to go anywhere but up, the report said, increasing services to the poor may be essential.

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