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Poverty in Oakland County

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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09/27/2016 - The image of people who are poor and suffering from poverty are often of homeless men sleeping on the streets, of a destitute individual living out of their car, or someone holed up at a shelter. There's a school of thought that it's their fault if they would only get a job, and perhaps give up their addictions, they would be able to pull themselves out of poverty, get a nice home in the suburbs, and live well.

That fallacy is multifold, from who is poor today, and the reality that poverty has reached its long tentacles well into America's suburbs, including into the suburbs of wealthy Oakland County.

"While the common perception is that poverty is concentrated in cities, the truth is that many more families with incomes below the federal poverty line now live in suburban communities outside of Detroit," stated a report by Lighthouse of Oakland County, a non-profit provider located in Pontiac and Clarkston that offers emergency housing and food to low-income families in Oakland County, as well as providing programs to motivate and teach self-sufficiency and develop financial independence.

Poverty Chart - Oakland County
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The Great Recession of the last decade has left a deep handprint upon Oakland County, as well as many suburban areas around the country, that is proving difficult to erase. Elizabeth Kneebone of The Brookings Institute, in a 2013 report Confronting Suburban Poverty, wrote, "Almost every major metro area saw the number of suburban poor living in high-poverty or distressed neighborhoods grow during the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor residents in the suburbs of the nation's largest metropolitan areas grew by 64 percent more than twice the growth rate in cities. For the first time, suburbs became home to more poor residents than America's big cities. Today, one in three poor Americans about 16.4 million people lives in the suburbs."

Kneebone further said, "low-income populations in suburbs surrounding the country's largest metropolitan areas grew 66 percent from 2000 to 2013, while urban cores saw only 30 percent growth. The cause of this can be traced back to the early and mid-2000s when suburban housing was made affordable through housing vouchers and subprime mortgages, which gave millions of low-income Americans access to the suburbs."

Then, in 2007 and 2008, the housing bubble burst. Prices plummeted, foreclosure rates escalated, and millions of new suburban homeowners were thrust into poverty. Adding to new suburbanites problems was an inadequacy in the public safety net, which had previously been focused on urban centers which had traditionally dealt with impoverished citizens.

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