Discussing the rise in suburban poverty in the Pittsburgh region

After a recent report discussed the rise of poverty in the suburbs and the inability of many suburban governments to provide services for those in poverty, here is how this plays out in the Pittsburgh region:

In Western Pennsylvania, the increase of suburban poverty is not because poor people are moving into those areas. Instead, people living in the suburbs are becoming poor. Chris Briem, of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social & Urban Research, said local areas with high rates of poverty are “not necessarily places that are poor because of out-migration from the city.”…

Alexandra Murphy has been living in Penn Hills for the past three years studying the suburban poor for a doctorate in sociology from Princeton University. She said the working class, which was “on the brink of making ends meet” before the recession, found itself what she termed “poor in place,” and needing access to food banks and help with bills just like the traditional poor in the cities.

Murphy said the difference between urban poverty and suburban poverty is that the latter “doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to meet the needs.”…

Mike Irwin, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Duquesne University, said that kind of a shift can result in “social disorganization” in some communities, which can lead to increased crime. The deterioration some communities have experienced over the past few decades could soon occur in more places, he said.

More and more suburban communities will encounter these issues. Considering the budget shortfalls faced by many municipalities and other units of local governments (school districts, park districts, etc.), how can they find money for social services?

If anything, this does provide an opportunity for religious congregations and organizations to step up and not only meet subsistence needs but also to think creatively about providing jobs and housing for the long term. Instead of just sending money to the inner city or overseas, wealthy suburban churches can now help out in their own backyards and help boost local economies.

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