The popular equations of "poor equals urban" and "wealthy equals suburban" are less true than ever, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. About 1 million more U.S. residents in poverty now make their homes in suburbia than in cities.
During the first half of this decade, job losses and economic recession have meant that many suburban dwellers have lost financial footing. In addition, retail and industrial jobs have been moving out of center cities for the past 30 years, and the people who hold those jobs are now following.
If employment is the pull of the suburbs for the poor, gentrification is the push. Noel Castellanos of Christian Community Development Association points to urban renewal as a significant factor in poor people's relocation to the suburbs. As downtowns remake themselves into hip places for professionals to live, many low-income residents are priced out. "Many need to relocate, and many are finding that the suburbs are the most affordable place to live," says Castellanos.
Yet jobs and houses do not define anyone, and neither one completely explains the study's findings. Apparently, the allure of suburbia is no longer confined to the middle classes. "The poor are not isolated from the American Dream," says Edith Yoder, director of Bridge of Hope National, which matches homeless women and their children with church-based mentoring groups. "We hear many Bridge of Hope applicants who want to move out of cities saying, 'I want better schools for my kids. I want safety,'" says Yoder. "I've heard women conjure up the image of the 'white picket fence.'"