You can’t always judge a book by its cover. In our culture, the term ““inner city” conjures images of condemned buildings and dilapidated public housing units as we mentally label “inner-city” as “poor.” We also often associate the term “suburban” with “affluent,” as we imagine idyllic neighborhoods with large backyards and quality schools.
However, a recent Brookings Institute study shows that poverty is rising faster in America’s suburbs than in its urban core. And Atlanta is no exception. Metro Atlanta had the fourth highest suburban poverty growth rate in the United States between 2000 and 2010.
Although Atlanta city dwellers are still more likely to be in poverty than those in the suburbs, with the urban poverty rate at 26.2% and the urban poverty rate at 16%, poverty is growing in the suburbs at 14 times the speed of that in the city.
What is even more telling is when we look at the sheer numbers of individuals living in poverty. 886,390 people in poverty live in the suburbs while only 246,229 live in the city, meaning that 78% of metro Atlanta’s poor lives in the suburbs. Although this statistic can largely be attributed to the fact that the Atlanta suburbs carry a much greater population than the urban core, we should still realize how this should impact policies for helping the poor in the area as social and economic programs are traditionally concentrated in the city.
To make matters even more troubling, the implications of living in suburbia hit Atlanta’s poor particularly hard as transportation from the outskirts of the city into the central business district can be extremely time consuming, if not impossible, without a car. This lack of mobility in the suburbs greatly limits accessibility to the safety-net services and job opportunities that the city offers.
Fortunately, cities across America that also faced this suburban poverty challenge offer a number of innovative solutions to Atlanta’s problem. Houston created 60 neighborhood centers throughout the metro region to reach both inner-city and suburban neighborhoods. The Seattle area developed a Road Map Project that focuses on closing achievement gaps in suburban schools. And in Chicago, suburban communities decided to look past their town borders and created regional initiatives that focused on shared success rather than competing with each other for resources.
If you feel passionate about alleviating suburban poverty, you can take action in a variety of ways. Raise awareness in your community by bringing up the topic at school board meetings, a chamber of commerce meeting, or even your Facebook page. Tell influential leaders how you feel. Visit your representatives in the state legislature. If that seems too intimidating, express your beliefs to your faith-based leader or explain the problem to a local business owner. These people are more influential than you may realize. Finally, share your opinion with the media by contacting your local television station, writing a letter to the editor, or even by posting a blog post.
Visit http://confrontingsuburbanpoverty.org/action-toolkit/ for more information on how to make a difference.
Lindsey Garner is a healthcare consultant, policy wonk, and blogger living in Atlanta, Georgia. She believes that an informed population is the best political actor. Her blog is http://www.lets-be-real.org.