The Hidden Cost of Suburban Poverty

During April 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conducted its semiannual New England Community Outlook Survey. The survey covered topics ranging from the availability of credit for small businesses to emerging issues facing lower-income communities; this time the survey also included three questions specific to issues affecting suburban lower-income communities.  New England’s population is split between rural areas, small metropolitan areas, urban centers, and suburban areas surrounding the urban centers. In the past, due to the urban bias of respondents, many New England Community Outlook Survey reports focused on the lower- and moderate-income urban experience. In January 2014, the survey was revised somewhat to shed light on the challenges facing New England’s rural communities, and this report focuses on low- and moderate-income households that till now haven’t been widely acknowledged as living within New England’s suburban communities.  

factoid1-cropStruggling suburban families are emerging from anonymity.  In April 2014, a Boston Globe article looked at emerging food stamp usage in the gentrifying town of Bristol, Rhode Island, New Hampshire Business Magazine devoted its June 2014 cover story to the working poor, and the August 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine highlighted the “The New Face of Hunger.”

Roughly 1.8 million of the people living in New England’s suburban communities have experienced poverty in the last 12 months; more than 125,000 of them are children under the age of five.  Equally startling is the fact that 25.3% of New England’s suburban households currently receive food stamps.

All too often, low- and moderate-income (LMI) families live in suburban neighborhoods that are replete with wealth but devoid of the social service networks available to urban families in need.    This New England Community Outlook Survey Report tries to shine light on the challenges they face, with a particular focus on Connecticut.

With much of its population dispersed among the largest cities, Connecticut presented a unique opportunity to examine a largely suburban state with a relatively high median family income, in which many lower-income families seemingly “are lost in the suburbs.”  We looked at two specific metropolitan areas in Connecticut – Hartford and New Haven – where lower-income suburban families are struggling to cope with the high cost of affordable child care and making sacrifices to pay for the daily commute to work, both of which pose a risk to household financial stability.  It is worth noting, however, that the challenges described could apply to any suburban neighborhood in New England.

We encourage you to review the Report and share it with those who might have an interest.