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Welcome to the Suburban Depression

Job Seekers Attend Illinois Job Fair
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Job Seekers Attend Illinois Job Fair


The prolonged economic slump we've been in since before the financial crisis really is different than recent recession experiences, especially when it comes to those who now live in poverty.

The official U.S. poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5 percent. Following the calamities of 2008 it climbed upward and kept climbing. By 2009, the rate was 14.3 percent. In 2010 it went to 15.1 percent, according to U.S. Census data reviewed by Pro Publica.

There has not been so large a portion of Americans in poverty since 1993. But this time the growth in poverty is different, hitting whites and suburbia harder than it did during the early 1990s slump. African Americans, by contrast, appear to be doing better.

The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010. That compares to 12.2 percent in 1993, according to the Census Bureau.

The suburban poverty rate is 11.8 percent, a level not seen since 1967.

African Americans appear to be faring relatively better than they did in the early 1990s. In 1993 the poverty rate for African Americans reached 33.1 percent. Last year it was 27.4 percent.

It's not entirely clear why African Americans are faring so much better in this recession than in the last, at least in terms of poverty. It may be that social and economic progress in the intervening years has left African Americans less vulnerable to economic downturns.

A key factor in the rise in suburban poverty may be the fact that the housing market has played such a central role in the economic slump.

Many suburbs have seen a vast amount of wealth erased by declining housing markets and mortgage foreclosures, resulting in a great deal of economic dislocation. Since white Americans are more likely to own homes than African Americans, this could also explain why whites have fared worse than they did in the 1990s while African Americans have fared better.

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