More than ever the idea of poverty as a strictly Chicago story is out of date.
In the last decade, poverty surged in the Chicago suburbs so that the suburbs now account for at least half of the poor in the Chicago area.
In 1990, one third of the region’s poor lived in the suburbs. By 2011 that number jumped to half.
The number of poor in the suburbs doubled in the last decade, reaching about 630,000, while the number of poor in the city remained about the same.
These figures come from newly released data and analysis provided by the Social Impact Research Center of the Heartland Alliance. The report looks at the period from 1990 to 2011. It is scheduled for release Thursday.
Why does it matter?
It tells us about significant economic changes, among them declining wages and living standards among those living in the suburbs.
It tells us that rate of children in poverty jumped from 7 to 14 percent in the suburbs.
That the share of foreign born residents nearly doubled and the share of native-born Latino nearly tripled during this time in the suburbs.
That the percentage of native-born whites in poverty grew by 16 percent in Chicago, and by 26 percent in the suburbs.
That Chicago experienced a major increase in folks with college degrees or higher, an increase far exceeding the same growth in the suburbs.
That the median household income dropped by 14 percent in the suburbs as compared to a 12 percent decline in the city.
So what are we seeing?
A spread of the poor from the city to the suburbs, or a downward decline among suburban families vulnerable to the economic shocks rippling through the economy?
Are we watching a new shift of better educated, better financially prepared folks finding places for themselves in the city rather than the suburbs? Is this a measure of the social stratification and gentrification taking place in Chicago?
Who are these poor? Who is serving them? What percent of them are immigrants and where are these immigrants from?
These are realities for the city and suburban communities, for the agencies that care for the poor and for the vast social network that educates and shapes the future for these places.
If ever there’s a time for reporting on a story that has largely been ignored this is it, and the responsibility falls clearly in the black, Latino and immigrant news media to tell us what’s happening
When we learned that nearly 200,000 black residents departed from Chicago in the last decade, we fell silent, barely asking who they were, where they went or why they left.
Let’s not commit such mistakes again.
If you’ve done any reporting on this issue, please share it with us. Or simply tell us what you would like to see reported on.
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