Help for the Masses–Next Door

Recent headlines proclaimed the “re-emergence of concentrated poverty,” noting that the population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods—defined as areas where at least 40 percent of individuals live below the poverty line—rose by one-third in the 10 years following 2000. So in other words, not only are there more poor people, but there are more poor neighborhoods.  And many of these neighborhoods are now found in the suburbs as well as the inner city.

Researchers with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution; a Washington, D.C., think tank; came to these conclusions in The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty: Metropolitan Trends in the 2000s” after studying data from the 2005–2009 American Community Survey and the 1990 and 2000 Censuses. While I’m skeptical of many of their findings, my own neighborhood has morphed from a mildly upscale, white-bread suburb into a more interesting mix over the past couple years.  

For example, one couple now has their middle-aged daughter living with them. She’s been unemployed for over three years and is waiting for the bank to finish foreclosing on her home while she looks for work. Farther up the street, another man is hosting a mentally ill sister who cannot hold a job.

Then there’s the guy around the corner who inherited his home from his father. He does occasional odd-jobs, but exists without electricity, heat or transportation. A couple houses past him lives a family of immigrants who never have fewer than 10 cars in their driveway at any time. No one is sure how many people actually stay there.  Another family, from Central America, moved in last year and ran afoul of the neighbors by refusing to take their ancient, skeletal dog to the vet.  Apparently, to them, dogs have not yet become treasured family members that get their own Halloween costumes.

We’ve also experienced more crime in the past year, mostly from a spate of break-ins fueled by a pair of drug-sellers who live nearby. So occasionally we get our own episode of “Cops,” as the police chase the suspects through the neighborhood while helicopters hover over the treetops.

Does this sound like the suburbs? In some ways, these changes have been positive. As a stay-at-home writer, I used to get odd looks for being here during the day. Now I have lots of company. And the break-ins have forced the neighbors to talk to each other. We now swap notices of suspicious vehicles through a thriving block-watch system.  People never lack for neighborhood gossip when they run into each other. What used to be a mumbled hello is now more likely to be a discussion of job-hunting tips or the latest sightings of the neighborhood drifter. And the shift has shown what I’ve always suspected. It may take fifteen years to stop being a newcomer here, and Bunco parties may never catch on, but if you need a hand, this a great place to be.

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