Death Of The Middle Class: The Suburbs Have Absorbed Half Of America’s Poverty Growth

For decades suburbia was home to the highest concentration of wealth in America, and perhaps even the entire world. It was the seat of our nation’s thriving middle class and a beacon of economic mobility. The streets were clean and safe, the schools were highly regarded, and there were plenty of middle class jobs to be had.

But something has changed in suburbia. While offshoring and automation have destroyed millions of jobs across the country, the decimation of brick and mortar stores by online retailers has pounded the wealth base of suburbia. So much so, that there are more people living in poverty in suburbia than any other place in America.

According to a new book, “Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty,” by University of Washington professor Scott Allard, American suburbs are facing economic hardship on a massive, if poorly understood, scale.

As of 2014, urban areas in the US had 13 million people living in poverty. Meanwhile, the suburbs had just shy of 17 million.

The Great Recession of 2008 helped accelerate much of the poverty that emerged in the early 2000s, Allard’s research has found. But another disrupting factor was the technological shift that enabled — and continues to enable — online retailers like Amazon and other e-commerce sites to replace shopping malls and big-box stores.

This ongoing demise has hollowed out many of the jobs suburban Americans once turned to as a means of supporting themselves.

So where did the wealth go? It appears to have fled suburbia, and made its way back to the cities.

The kinds of jobs that do entice younger people — mostly higher-skill, white-collar work — are increasingly found in cities. Suburban office parks are becoming a thing of the past as millennials flock to nearby metropolitan areas for work, accelerating the speed at which the suburban workforce hollows out overall.

Allard said it’s a reversal of several decades ago, when businesses moved to the suburbs to attract people who had recently vacated the city in search of a safer, greener place to live

Of course there are many factors that have killed jobs and wealth creation in suburbia, and those factors are contributing to poverty across the board. When you look at the data, you’ll find that the number of people living under the poverty line has skyrocketed in the suburbs, the cities, and rural areas. It’s happening everywhere. But suburbia is being hit the hardest.

Between 2000 and 2015, the poor population in smaller metropolitan areas grew at double the pace of the urban and rural poor populations, outstripped only by poverty’s growth in the nation’s suburbs. Suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw the number of residents living below the poverty line grow by 57 percent between 2000 and 2015. All together, suburbs accounted for nearly half (48 percent) of the total national increase in the poor population over that time period.

The truth is this is emblematic of a much wider trend. The middle class in America is clearly dying, and the suburbs are where the middle class used to be concentrated. But like I said, it’s happening all over the place.

It used to be that you could escape poverty by moving from one place to another. During the industrial revolution, millions fled the subsistence living conditions in the countryside for factory jobs in the city. After World War Two, millions more left the cities for the suburbs.

But where can people run to now for economic opportunity? The middle class jobs in the suburbs have been hollowed out by the digital age. Offshoring, automation, environmental regulations, and illegal immigration have driven down wages and killed many of the highest paying jobs in rural areas. For most people, the only good paying jobs are in the cities, where the cost of living is so high that you can barely raise a family on a six figure income, which of course negates any of the benefits of having a high paying urban job.

If trends like this continue, then someday we’re going to wake up in a country that is like many that came before, where a few coastal elites are incredibly wealthy, and poverty is the norm for everyone else.

Photo: “green suburbs” by Pierre Metivier is licensed under CC BY-NC

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  • Eden Pagani

    Thank you. I am looking for a solution as well.

  • Eden Pagani

    Can anyone recommend another article or book that I can read to get me out of the middle class? I have my college degrees etc; however, my children are in their late 20’s and I want to prevent them from having financial problems. I at least want to have a plan in place or a book that can guide them. I need solutions (besides the obvious of get rich and leave money to the kids). Any responses would be welcome. I was a military brat so moving out of the country could be an option as well. Thank you so much for this article. Perhaps it’s as simple as leaving a real estate portfolio that they could sale off as time went on…..

  • JohnDille

    WHAT MINIMUM WAGE HIKE???? REPUBLICANS HAVE BLOCKED ALMOST EVERY WAGE HIKE SINCE REAGAN TOOK OFFICE… IN 1981!!! THAT IS WHY THE MINIMUM WAGE TODAY WOULD HAVE TO BE LIFTED BY 55 FREAKING PERCENT JUST TO GET IT BACK TO WHAT IT WAS… JUST SHORT OF 50 YEARS AGO!!! THIEVING GREEDY SELFISH ARROGANT AHOLE REPUBLICAN WAGE THIEVES!!!

  • Mark0003260

    Of course sending the inner city trash out to the suburbs with section 8 vouchers had nothing to do with it.

  • JohnDille

    YOUR COMMENT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE!!! YOU MUST BE A REPUBLICAN!!!

  • JohnDille

    THIS WILL COME AS A SHOCK TO YOU… BUT MOSTLY, AMERICA IS BEING RUN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY THAT OBAMA RAN THINGS… BECAUSE TRUMP HAS DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING EXCEPT TO STIR UP ENDLESS MEDIA CONTROVERSIES… AND TO MAKE HIMSELF HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN CURRENT AND NEAR FUTURE PROFITS FOR HIMSELF AND HIS FAMILY!!! BEYOND THAT… TRUMP HAS DONE NOTHING EXCEPT TO NAKE A BIG SHOW OF SIGNING MOSTLY MEANINGLESS PROCLAMATIONS… AND PLAY A LOT OF GOLF…. AND TO TWEET ENDLESSLY ABOUT HOW PATHETIC HE REALLY IS!!!

  • JohnDille

    LETS GO BACK TO DOING THINGS THE WAY DEMOCRATS DID FROM THE 1930’S AND 1940’S INTO THE EARLY 1970’S… WHEN TAXES ON THE RICH AND ON CORPORATE AMERICA WERE VERY HIGH… SO THEY HAD TO INVEST IN AMERICA IN ORDER TO KEEP THEIR TAXES FROM EATING UP ALL OF THEIR PROFITS… AND WHEN THOSE INVESTMENTS CREATED TENS OF MILLIONS OF JOBS, PAYING EVER RISING WAGES… BUILDING UP THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE OF THIS NATION… SO THAT UNDER DEMOCRATS… THE UNITED STATES BECAME THE RICHEST AND MOST POWERFUL NATION ON EARTH!!! REPUBLICANS CUTTING TAXES… AND DRIVING DOWN WAGES… IS DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR MOST OF THE DECLINE IN THIS NATIONS GLOBAL MILITARY ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CLOUT AND THE DECLINE IN THE PROSPERITY AND WELL BEING OF ORDINARY PEOPLE HERE AT HOME!!!

  • JohnDille

    WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER 95% OF THE US WORK FORCE??? SHOULD WE HAVE TO WORK FOR A BUCK AN HOUR, JUST TO MAKE RICH REPUBLICANS EVEN RICHER AND MORE POWERFUL, AS WELL??? THANKS TO ALMOST 40 YEARS OF INCREASINGLY POWERFUL CONTROL OF THIS NATION BY RICH REPUBLICANS, THAT IS EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE HEADING!!! REPUBLICANS HAVE BEEN HIRING MANY MILLIONS OF IMMIGRANTS… MANY OF THEN ILLEGAL… SO THEY COULD USE THEM TO DRIVE DOWN WAGES FOR THE LARGE MAJORITY OF AMERICAN WORKING PEOPLE!!! APPARENTLY, YOU TRUMP SUPPORTERS ARE TOO STUPID TO REALIZE THAT… OR TO REALIZE THAT DONALD TRUMOP HIMSELF HAS USED IMMIGRANT LABOR… MUCH OF IT ILLEGAL… TO DRIVE DOWN WAGES THAT HIS CASINOES AND HOTELS HAVE TO PAY… AND HE HAS MADE BILLIONS BY DOING THAT!!! AND WHAT MAKES THAT SO BAD IS… DONALD TRUMP HAS BRAGGED… LOUDLY AND OFTEN… ABOUT DOING EXACTLY THAT!!! BUT IDIOTS LIKE YOU VOTED FOR HIM ANYWAY!!! SAD!!!

  • JohnDille

    REAL DEMOCRATS CONTROLLED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT… OFTEN OVERWHELMINGLY… FROM 1933 TO 1969! LYNDON JOHNSON WAS THE LAST REAL DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT WITH ENOUGH SUPPORT IN BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS… AND THE SPREME COURT… TO OVERCOME THE OPPOSITION OF THE SUPER RICH AND THEIR REPUBLICAN POLITICAL PROSTITUTES! SINCE 1973, REAL DEMOCRATS HAVE HAD DECLINING CONTROL OVER THIS NATION… AND VIRTUALLY NO REAL CONTROL… AT ALL… SINCE RONALD REAGAN TOOK OFFICE IN 1981!!! THAT IS POLITICAL SCIENCE 101… NO LEGITIMATE POLITICAL SCIENTIST WOULD DISPUTE WHAT I HAVE JUST SAID… IN THIS COMMENT OR THE ONE JUST ABOVE!!! THAT MEANS THAT REPUBLICANS ARE ALMOST TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE 40 YEAR DECLINE OF THIS NATIONS ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND POLITICAL SYSTEMS AND INFRASTRUCTURES!!!

  • JohnDille

    SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS STARTED TURING INTO REPUBLICAN SUPPORTERS FROM THE MID 1960’S INTO THE MID 1990’S, BY WHICH TIME THAT PROCESS WAS COMPLETE!!! SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS… NOW ALL REPUIBLICANS… TURNED AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY BECAUSE REAL DEMOCRATS SUPPORTED THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND MINORITY PEOPLES… AND SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS… CONSERVATIVES… RIGHT WINGERS… REFUSED TO DO THAT… AND NOW THEY CONTROL THE REPUBLICAN PARTY… AND HAVE BEEN MORE LOYAL TO THE REPUBLICAN PARTY EVEN BEFORE THAT… GONG BACK INTO THE 1970’S!!! REMEMBER RICHARD NIXON’S MANDATE ELECTION SWEEP IN 1972??? THAT MARKED THE BEGINNING OF THE RISE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, WHICH HAS BECOME EVER MORE CONTROLLED BY SOUTHERN CONSERVATIVES EVER SINCE!! IF YOU DOUBT THAT.. EXPLAIN TO US WHY ALL 11 CONFEDERATE STATES ARE NOW SOLIDLY REPUBLICAN!!! EXCEDPT VIRGINIA, WHICH IS TRENDING DEMOCRATIC BECAUSE OF THE BIG BUILD UP IN POPULATION UP AROUND WASHINGTON DC!!! SO… FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES… REPUBLICANS HAVE CONTROLLED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PRETTY MUCH EVER SINCE JANUARY 1973… WITH A FEW… VERY FEW… YEARS OF LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC INFLUENCE… NEVER CONTROL… SINCE THEN!!! I YOU WANT TO SEE WHEN REPUBLICANS GAINED CONTROL OF THE UNITED STATES… LOOK AT THE RISE IN INCOME SHARES EARNED BY THE TOP 1%… THE RICH HAVE GOTTEN MUCH MORE INCOME… ALL AT THE XPENSE OF THE MIDDLE AND LOWER INCOME PEOPLE IN THIS NATION… STARTING IN THE EARLY 1970’S… BUT ACCELERATING DRAMATICALLY WHEN RONALD REAGAN TOOK OFFICE! THE RISE IN WEALTH SAHRES GOIN TO THE TIOP 1% LAGGED THE INCOME SIFT BY ABOUT 6 TO 10 YEARS… 1986 WAS THE YEAR IN WHICH WEALTH SHARES GOING TO THE BOTTOM 90% PEAKED OUT… AND THANKS TO REPUBLICAN POLICIES… THE TOP ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT OF THE US POPULATION NOW HAS AS MUCH AGGREGATE NET WORTH AS THE BOTTOM 90%!!! AND THAT DEFINES THE RISE OF REPUBLICAN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL POWER IN THIS NATION!!!

  • truther

    Yeah, they held the house for 45 years!

  • truther

    Let them work for $1 an hour if they’re illegal. They should not get the citzens minimum wage. And eliminate minimum wage altogether. Business will pay more. They already do

  • truther

    Reread my post…every morning. You might get a twinge of happiness.

  • truther

    Sure. Eliminate offshoring, which is an intentional result of the BushClinton nafta and gatt trade deals, and return to America first. Then build the wall, keeping migrants/ vagrants out, and cut off all wefare for those illegals who stay. Enforce our laws against hiring illegals. Eliminate 80 percent of the useless environmental regulations. Institute free training for citizens to run the new automated equipment…….O, wait we’re already doing all those things….Trump won the election.

  • B.D.

    Not to state the obvious, but weren’t the Democrats in power at least half of that time. And in the Obama era, didn’t the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency at least the first two years of O’s 8 YEARS IN OFFICE (I just thought you liked capital letters)? Didn’t they pass Obamacare then, but not your wage hike you crow about?

  • B.D.

    Like what? (This ought to be good, assuming you answer at all.)

  • B.D.

    Exactly. Never to you see a rational fix offered. It’s like looking at the side off the Titanic and saying, “look, it has a big hole in it, I’ll bet it’s going to sink” over and over again.

  • Greg Wedemeyer

    Now that you both have had a sissy-fit… why not give your example of what you would do to fix the problem… Stop pissing up a rope… State your fix…if you have anything to offer…

  • JohnDille

    YEAH… WHY DO REPUBLICANS INSIST…. INSIST…. INSIST ON HIRING SO MANY MILLIONS OF IMMIGRANTS… LARGE NUMBERS OF THEM ILLEGALS? IF YOU HAVE WANTED A JOB IN AMERICA OVER THE PAST 45 YEARS… YOU WOULD HAVE DONE BEST TO BE A WOMAN OR AN IMMIGRANT!!! ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO LOW WAGE JOBS… REPUBLICANS HAVE HIRED ILLEGALS BY THE MILLIONS TO DO THE CRAP LOW WAGE JOBS THAT NO REAL AMERICAN WOULD EVEN THINK OF DOING FOR SUCH LOW WAGES AND LOUSY WORKING CONDITIONS! BUT… REPUBLICANS KEEP DRIVING DOWN WAGES FOR EVERYONE… AND THE BEST INDICATOR OF THAT IS TO CONSIDR THE MINIMUM WAGE!!! ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION… THE MINIMUM WAGE IN FEBRUARY 1968 WOULD NOW BE $ 11.35 AN HOUR!!! THAT MEANS THAT YOU WOULD HAVE TO RAISE THE CURRENT FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE BY 55 FREAKING PERCENT JUST TO GET IT BACK TO WHAT IT WAS JUST SHORT OF 50 YEARS AGO!!! THAT ALSO MEANS THAT… BACK THEN… A POVERTY OR NEAR POVERTY LEVEL WAGE WAS MINIMUM WAGE PLUS UP TO 33%! BY THAT EXACT SAME STANDARD TODAY… USING THE FEBRUARY 1968 MINIMUM WAGE AS THE GOLD STANDARD… A WORKER WOULD HAVE TO EARN ABOUT $ 31,500 TO BE OUT OF THE POVERTY OR NEAR POVERTY LEVEL!!! WELL… GUESS WHAT… ALMOST EXACTLY HALF OF ALL AMERICAN WORKERS WORK FOR LESS THAN THAT WAGE!!! AND YET… REPUBLICANS ARE SO FREAKING SELFISH GREEDY AND STUPID THAT THEY CANNOT UNDERSTAND THAT DRIVING DOWN THE MINIMUM WAGE… NOT COUNTING ALL OF THEIR OTHER CRIMINAL ACTS AND TREASONOUS ACTS… HAS DESTROYED THE US ECONOMIC SYSTEM, HAS DESTROYED THE MIDDLE CLASS… AND IS DESTROYING THE FUTURE OF THIS NATION!!! AS FOR GETTING RID OF REGULATIONS…IF YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH FILTHY AIR AND FILTHY WATER AND DANGEROUS FOOD PRODUCTS… THEN MOVE TO COMMUNIST CHINA!!! THEY NEED MORE STUPID PEOPLE TO WORK IN THEIR DANGEROUS FILTHY LOW WAGE MOSTLY UNREGULATED INDUSTRIES, AND MORONS LIKE YOU WOULD FIT RIGHT IN!!! FREAKING REPUBLICAN IDIOTS!!!

  • JohnDille

    SO… REPUBLICANS ARE FINALLY REALIZING THAT THEIR EFFORTS TO IMPOVERISH OUR CITIES AND TO IMPOVERISH OUR RURAL AREAS IS ALSO IMPOVERISHING OUR SUBURBS????? GEE… GLAD YOU IDIOT REPUBLICANS ARE FINALLY WAKING UP TO JUST HOW BAD YOU HAVE MISMANAGED THINGS OVER THE LAST 45 YEARS OR SO!!!

  • Rick

    Environmental regulations and illegal immigration , two of the liberals favorite things. The supposed champions for the middle class could not be farther from the truth. Liberalism destroys. Take that Odille.