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Suburban Poverty Growth May Alter Dem Strategy

Eyal Press has an article in The Nation, "The New Suburban Poverty," noting a demographic milestone that should elicit the attention of Democratic campaign strategists:

For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined.

The implications for political strategy in federal, state and local elections are substantial. In terms of policy, it means elected officials and political aspirants will have to rethink the delivery of needed social services to less dense areas. Funding those services adequately will be an increasing concern in the years ahead, especially for the growing number of middle class families who have fled the cities, expecting lower property taxes.

In terms of election strategy, Party leaders and candidates will have to rethink everthing from redistricting to GOTV logistics. It also requires some mental housecleaning regarding existing stereotypes of suburban life, as Press notes:

Stories of downward mobility in America's suburbs have not exactly cluttered the headlines over the past decade. Gated communities of dream homes, mansions ringed by man-made lakes and glass-cube office parks: These are the images typically evoked by the posh, supersized subdivisions built during the 1990s technology boom. Low-wage jobs, houses under foreclosure, families unable to afford food and medical care are not. But venture beyond the city limits of any major metropolitan area today, and you will encounter these things, in forms less concentrated--and therefore less visible--than in the more blighted pockets of our cities perhaps, but with growing frequency all the same.

And it's not just the inner 'burbs, as Press explains:

Last December the Brookings Institution published a report showing that from Las Vegas to Boise to Houston, suburban poverty has been growing over the past seven years, in some places slowly, in others by as much as 33 percent. "The enduring social and fiscal challenges for cities that stem from high poverty are increasingly shared by their suburbs," the report concludes. It's a problem some may assume is confined to the ragged fringes of so-called "inner ring" suburbs that directly border cities, places where the housing stock is older and from which many wealthier residents long ago departed. But this isn't the case. "Overall...first suburbs did not bear the brunt of increasing suburban poverty in the early 2000s," notes the Brookings report, which found that economic distress has spread to "second-tier suburbs and 'exurbs'" as well.

Savvy demographic and polical analysts have seen this trend coming for a while. Still, the milestone should ring a few bells in the war rooms of Democratic political campaigns. We'll resist the temptation to quote more of Press's excelent article -- a must-read for those who want a more realistic vision of America's political geography.