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Who’s Next Door?

Who’s Next Door?

If you live in suburbia, all the houses on the block may look the same. The neighbor’s kids may dress like yours and go to the same school. You could have other things in common with a neighbor, like the TV shows you watch or the music you dig. But nowadays that doesn’t mean that the family next door has the same financial resources as you do.

How come? There’s an invisible yet growing trend that goes against common public perception — people in need are now more likely to live in the suburbs than in big cities. Is that news to you? You’re not alone.

One nonprofit executive director reports getting “eye-popping reactions when I talk to people about the about the statistics.”

According to Scott Allard, professor of public affairs at the University of Washington, “Suburban poverty problems are not a new phenomenon; rather they have been decades in the making. The number of people living in poverty has doubled in the suburbs nationally since 1990 — almost three times the population growth.”

A look at United Way’s ALICE report corroborates his assertion. Suburban areas in our state that could be perceived as ‘comfortable’ are home to a high percentage of Asset-Limited Income-Constrained Employed (ALICE) families.

  • Branford                       30% ALICE
  • Bristol                            38%
  • Clinton                           28%
  • Old Saybrook                25%
  • Wallingford                   27%
  • West Hartford               27%
  • Wethersfield                  26%

Allard notes that this shift is not because of migration of the inner-city poor to surrounding suburban neighborhoods. “Most of the suburban poor,” he says, “are struggling because of diminished job opportunities and work earnings.”

Whether it’s a simple lack of knowledge, or a refusal to accept reality, many suburbanites are overlooking critical need … right down the block. This is borne out by spending. Allard says that his research shows “suburban counties spend roughly one dime on nonprofit human services per low-income person for every dollar spent in urban counties.”

Next time the subject shifts to affordable housing or human services for your town, remember: need lives everywhere in our state. As our towns make spending decisions, let’s all keep our neighbors’ welfare front and center.

Want to ready more about what Scott Allard has to say? Check out his book at Amazon.