What happened to the American Dream? As the Occupy Wall Street Movement spreads to other cities, states, and nations this question has been asked again and again. For many the American Dream was a 9 to 5 job, a house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids, and a car – the doorways into the middle class.
The New Poor
Now the middle class of America is disappearing and the suburbs are becoming ghost towns and slums (That’s a little dramatic -Ed.) The poor population located within America’s suburbs has risen by more than 50% since the year 2000. As the money associated with the middle class goes away so do business, shopping centers, and the very identity of what a middle class town is within America. The increase in poverty within the suburbs was 53%, compared to 26% of poverty increase in cities. The 2008 recession accelerated the rise of poverty within the American suburbs; two-thirds, of what has been coined, the “new suburban poor” were added from 2007 to 2010.
The back to back impact of the economic recession and the housing foreclosure crisis has dragged all levels of the middle class down the income ladder. As defined by the Census Bureau, the poverty line for a family of four was $22,314 last year. The number of households who fall into this “poor” demographic has risen by more than 50% in American suburbs since the year 2000.
Unprepared For Poverty
The middle class is the backbone of America and it is being broken. Poverty has been growing in the suburbs for years along with the population. But, the 53% increase in poverty far outstripped the 14% population increase in the past decade. As the wealth of the middle class goes away ,due a number of factors, it is no surprise that innovative creations like the Chevy Volt are having trouble making their way from the lot to the drive way. It is also not surprising that people are taking to the streets in frustration, frustration not only stemming from the actions of the large American banks but frustration coming from day to day work and life within a system, that for many, is broken.
One example of the frustration from work and home is seen in America’s suburbs — as the suburbs erode unforeseen consequences are emerging. Police, firefighters, and other municipality workers are now struggling to deal with the “new suburban poor”. Unlike cities, the suburbs have no established social programs to help poor residents. Thus, the suburban police and firefighters have to be taught to handle problems that can come with people living in poverty – this costs money that many suburban towns do not have to spare. Living in the suburbs is increasingly becoming un-affordable for many, who took cheap gas and increasing home values for granted.
The people who live in Middle America have been hit very hard by the economic downturn. In the city of Cleveland 60% of the poor, once concentrated in its urban core, now live in its suburbs. That number is up from 46% in the year 2000. Nationwide, 55% of the poor population in metropolitan areas is now located in the suburbs, that number is up from 49%.
Calls For New Ideas And Better Public Transit Options
In addition to the loss of wealth, jobs, and homes caused by the recession gas prices have increased. With gas reaching $4.00 and above in some markets, America’s public transportation systems has seen an increase in riders. This has caused both a positive and negative impact. The positive effect has been greater attention being paid to creating a more efficient American public transportation system and an emphasis on the need for high speed rail. The negative impact has been the strain put upon the current American mass transportation system by a very large and fast increase in users as well as backlash to funding the expansion of mass transit systems. Extending these public transit options out to the suburbs will go a long way towards alleviating the frustration many Americans have with cars and traffic congestion.
When times get hard, innovation and adaptation have to step up to the plate in an attempt to fill the created void. Case in point, the high cost of gas has pushed nearly all car manufactures to add eclectic and hybrid vehicles to their production lines, states are embracing green cars, and shipping fleets are being diversified with hybrid and electric vehicles. Positive change does happen but unfortunately, for some in America the sun will not come out tomorrow.
We all know someone who has been hit by these hard times. How are you adapting to the economic downturn, and how is it affecting your transportation and living style?
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.