Tag Archives: Food insecurity

Poverty in the suburbs – Part II

As they analyzed and interpreted the data for their study (Confronting Suburban Poverty in America)  Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone asked themselves the political implication, i.e. “which congressional districts are most affected by suburbanizing poverty, creating a stake in a broader agenda to reinvent place-based anti-poverty policy?”  Together with Jane Williams, also of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, the researchers reached the following conclusions.:

  • Poverty increase in the 2000s reflected broader regional economic struggles, rather than partisan affiliation.
  • More than 80% of congressional districts contain at least some portion of the suburbs within the 100 largest metropolitan areas.
  • The suburbs of Republican districts were somewhat more likely to experience poverty increases than the suburbs of Democratic districts.
  • Democrats still represent poorer suburbs than Republicans on average, but the gap has narrowed.
  • Districts with the fastest growth in the suburban poor population over 2000s lean red.
  • Districts where the share of suburbanites living below poverty rose fastest during the 2000s lean blue.

The full report (Suburban Poverty Traverses the Red/Blue Divide) and map is available online at http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/08/06-suburban-poverty-berube-kneebone-williams


Poverty in the suburbs – Hunger is a painful symptom

Americans moved to the suburbs after World War II to escape the problem of poverty in cities.  Running away is no longer an option – the cities ‘ traditional woes are now in the suburbs, too.  We have to recognize that the face of American poverty is an increasingly suburban one, and act accordingly.

The statistics came out last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  One in ten Minnesota homes is “food insecure” – translated this means that kids are going to school hungry, parents are missing meals so their kids can eat, old Minnesotans are giving up meals to pay their medical bills, food shelves are struggling to meet demands.

This is Hunger Awareness Month, a time look beyond the data.   As members of the faith community, nonprofits, schools and donors struggle to meet the challenge to cope with the results, A May 2013 Brookings Center study makes a strong case tor the imperative to frame the issue in a much broader and more contemporary context – to take an open and honest assessment of today’s map of poverty and to shape policies and procedures appropriate to the reality.

Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, fellows in Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, are the principal authors of a major report entitled Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. (Brookings Institution Press, 2013)   The authors reviewed fifty years of data, analyzed the trends, and ultimately concluded:

As poverty becomes increasingly regional in its scope and reach, it challenges conventional approaches that the nation has taken when dealing with poverty in place.  Many of those approaches were shaped when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national War on Poverty in 1964.  At that time, poor Americans were most likely to live in inner-city neighborhoods or sparsely populated rural areas.  Fifty years later, public perception still largely casts poverty as an urban or rural phenomenon.

Beginning in this century poverty in the suburbs began to accelerate at a fast rate than poverty in the cities.  As of 2011 suburban poor outnumbered urban poor by three million;  one in three poor Americans lives in the suburbs.

The authors note that there are advantages for poor people living in the suburbs – better schools, safe neighborhoods, greater diversity, depending on job availability,  shorter commutes.

Still, many other factors have driven poor people to relocate; among these are Section 8 housing vouchers, demolition of distressed public housing, the Fair Housing Act “were all part of a benign effort to de-concentrate poverty and open suburbia to low-income households, especially members of minority groups, who had been excluded for generations.

The problem is that the suburbs have not been able to keep up.  The authors cite a number of reasons that are inherent in the federal programs themselves.  .  Some federal programs, e.g. Head Start and Community Health Centers and Block Grants were targeted to urban areas.

Targeted programs are not the only issue, however.  Poverty in the suburbs is more diffuse, there may not be enough institutions or expertise to help the poor and, in some cases, “local leaders sometimes resist such programs, fearing they will only attract more poor residents.”

Furthermore, aid is fragmented among some eighty federal programs and at least ten federal agencies.  These programs are administered at the local level by a host of different agencies.  Programs cross jurisdictions and populations so that agencies responsible for delivery are required to deal with multiple bureaucracies, reporting procedures and regulations.   IT goes without saying that needy families, the elderly, those for whom language is a barrier find the systems confusing at best.

Bottom line, the authors conclude:  We need to transform social policy for the age of suburban poverty.  We should equip regions with aid that cuts across jurisdictional lies, help them use limited resources more efficiently, and reinvent the system from the ground up.

Poverty is pervasive and pernicious; food insecurity is just one observable  indicator.  Efforts to address hunger are local, visible, measurable and understandable.  Food Awareness Month offers a chance to focus on just one measure, a sort of swallow in the cave way to understand the reality and to reframe social policy in the light of 2013 reality.





A Place at the Table: A Documentary that Provides Food for Thought

It’s Saturday morning, time to listen to The Weekend Edition and to think about what’s happening in the world.  This week there’s talk about the Oscars, of course, about Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, baseball, sequestration and then, a feature that I hope everyone caught.  It’s a piece about the forthcoming documentary, A Place at the Table, set to open in theaters around the nation on March 1.  (I have tried with no avail to track down local options)    Please take a few minutes to listen to the interview with the producers, the experts, and, most of all, the voices of real people struggle with  “food insecurity.”

Take time, too, to read the early comments to the brief interview – enlightening…..

In past posts I’ve written about the big picture of hunger – the right to food as a human right, the need to rethink agricultural policy and U.S. investments in research, hunger as an education issue and the need to move from stopgap to holistic policy to cope with what is, after all, a solvable human condition.

A Place at the Table presents the “why” of the dilemma.  It tells the real-life stories of children and families trapped in the poverty cycle, mainstream Americans trying to earn a living and to learn.  These are good hard-working people who are the collateral damage of a broken system.

The documentary includes the voices of and views of experts, including a sociologist, a nutrition policy leaders and an author, along with the experiences of a pastor, teachers and activists. Food insecurity is a huge problem that has an impact on everyone because the social, economic, economic and education implications are profound throughout society.

As most Minnesotans know by now, March is Minnesota FoodShare Month.  We work together to support the immediate needs of people who depend on the agencies, from major state institutions to local places of worship.  We share food and funds as well as awareness campaigns focus on the tragic fact that families in our community are going hungry through no fault of their own – and that we can help.

We also need to face the fact that we as a nation have within our purview the resources to solve this problem.  It’s complicated.  It will take collaboration among players with adversarial agendas.  It will take time.  It will mean that we will have to reexamine our basic belief in the right to food.  It will mean deconstructing a complex system that meets the voracious wants of some at the expense of the basic needs of others.  It may require retooling processing, shifting the research agenda, thinking in global as well as local terms.

A Place at the Table may possibly get the conversation started, especially if people of good will take time to listen to the preview and see the film.  Though its first run is in the theaters, the film will  no doubt travel a mix of digital routes in short order.