It has been nearly a half century since President Lyndon Johnson had declared war on poverty. Back in the 1960s tackling poverty meant focusing resources in the inner cities and rural areas.
Whereas the suburbs were seen as home to thriving middle- and upper-class families, affluent commuters and homeowners who were looking for good schools and safe communities in which to raise their kids.
But today's America is a very different place. Poverty is no longer just an urban or rural problem, it's a suburban one as well.
We once thought poverty was mostly a problem for minorities in urban neighborhoods, or those living in the rural areas of Southern states; but it is also beginning to devour what was a majority of white middle-class families in major suburban neighborhoods as well.
As of May 10, 2013, the latest data shows that 47.6 million Americans now rely on food stamps --- 36% are white, while only 22% are black. And when we look at people living in extreme poverty, those households making less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold, of 20 million, about 42 percent are white and 26 percent are black.
A study from Stanford University shows that back in 1970, 65 percent of America’s families lived in “middle-income” situations. By 2008, only 43 percent of U.S. families lived in middle-income neighborhoods. Meanwhile, over that same period of time, the share of families living in either poor or rich neighborhoods essentially doubled. (The book "Coming Apart" draws on five decades of statistics and research that demonstrates this.)
Over the last several years the suburbs have added poor residents at a faster pace than cities. The number of poor people in U.S. suburbs rose by 63.6% between 2000 and 2011, from 10 million to well over 16 million people.
For the first time, because of the Great Recession, outsourcing and the housing bubble, there are now more people living below the poverty line in the suburbs than there are in the cities.
By the end of 2011, 88% of all the residents in the Atlanta, Georgia suburbs were living in poverty --- the largest proportion of any large metro area in the nation. There are roughly 480,000 more people living here in poverty than there were in 2000, an extraordinary 158% increase in the number of suburban poor.
The spread of suburban poverty had many causes, including job sprawl, shifts in affordable housing, population dynamics and immigration - and now a dire economy. (See the 1½ minute video below)