In the suburbs of East Contra Costa County, the poverty rate has grown by more than 70 percent in the past decade. That’s part of a Brookings Institution report chronicling the rise of suburban poverty nationwide. The report found the rate of poverty in suburbs has grown twice as fast as it has in the cities, but anti-poverty programs have been slow to respond and are still mostly focused in urban areas. We discuss the rise of poverty in the suburbs, and what can be done about it.

Elizabeth Kneebone, fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and co-author of "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America"
Alissa Friedman, executive director of Opportunity Junction, an Antioch-based nonprofit that runs a job-training and placement program to help East County residents become self-sufficient

  • thucy

    I’m looking forward to this segment hosted by Scott Shafer. I iust want to point out that this isn’t restricted to the East Bay. Peninsula’s got similar issues, and here’s an article on Marin County poverty by CIR:

    The article on Marin doesn’t tell the whole story. Focusing on Latinos, it leaves out some of the Latino community’s shared sacrifices, deep family networks, and faith, which can make enduring such conditions a little less bitter. Having worked with “under-served populations” in health care, I think that poor urban/suburban whites, through no fault of their own, are often lacking in these networks, and they are burdened by higher expectations.
    I just worry that by leaving out the aspect of white poverty, we are too likely to pretend the issue is restricted to immigrants, and thereby we can ignore it. We have to do better in making sure everyone can work and that their work will insure food, housing, healthcare, and civil rights.

  • sunnyvale sam

    A newcomer cannot live in the Bay Area without a high paying job. But people who came here long ago, bought houses and paid them off can afford to stay here without lavish employment prospects. These natives or old-comers have assets that make them effectively wealthy even if they work at a Starbucks. And no wonder so many are renting out rooms with cash-only rent payments.

  • Kimberlein

    I’d love to hear some discussion on West Contra Costa County (where I live), which contains some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, according to Forbes ( What role do wealthy zip codes/towns like Danville, San Ramon, Orinda, Lafayette, and Moraga play?

    • Allan Nichols

      If it was not for the wealthy ZIP codes and the massive ammounts of tax money that come out of them, California would already be one big ghetto of spoild brats like overgrown children demmanding everything under the sun and producing little or nothing to pay for it. Face it the US has grown lazy being weened onto the government milk and now what was onece a phenomenom of poor urban areas where people have been taught to believe they should get something for nothing has now spread to suburbia as once proud working people with good jobs lose them and are unwilling to take menail jobs working much lower wages. Instead they collect as long as they can waiting to get the 20 or 30 dollar an hr jobs back next the UC benifits stop and before you know it they are on welfare instead of taking the job at BK or Wal Mart. It’s thanks to the taxes paid by a small number of people that the government is able whatever services we have.
      Face it we have becom largely a nation of lazy takers unlike our founders or the people who pulled themself out of the great depression and two world wars without complaining on bit !

      • Susan Price

        I’m sorry, Allan, but you are imagining how other people live. I suggest that you do more research such as visiting non-profits that are located in poorer areas and asking staff questions about the obstacles their clients face. I am purposely not proposing that you interview the poor themselves because it is not their job to educate you. They have enough to handle already.

      • aa aa

        You don’t know how welfare works today: you HAVE to work at a job while on it, and there is a llifetime cap of 5 years total that you can receive it, so there’s certainly every incentive for welfare-recipients to take any job they can get, even if its menial and pays very little. And the reason many low-income folks (I was on it 2 years) need taxpayer-supported income in the first place is because real wages (wages minus costs– mainly housing costs) are so low that you cannot survive on them alone. In 1998-1999, after I got my PhD in history, I was paid between $5000-$7000/year for the only jobs I could find. Try living on that without any welfare.. Unwilling to take menial jobs? BS. That’s all that is available to most of us,. And sadly, I made a lot more money receiving child support from the person with whom I accidentally got pregnant, than I’ve ever received from working, which should tell you how poor work incentives have become for many Americans.

        More of the generation who lived through the Depression & WWII (my parents) could get by without needing welfare because real wages were higher. My father got a PhD from a less prestigious university than I, but unlike myself and many other US PhD’s today he easily got a job that paid enough to support a homemaker and three children. Why? The labor market for PhD’s in 1964 was not glutted with immigrants (yes! today US universities hire foreign PhD’s into the only decently-paid jobs in fields like history and philosophy, even though there are way too many Americans competing for those jobs). Employers had to provide reasonable wages, even job training. And retraining and higher education was a lot cheaper so you did not end up with a mountain of debt that can barely be repaid. If you want Americans to not need welfare, lobby for the conditions that lead to the high real wages that we had from 1945-75: like a lot less immigration of the low and medium-skill variety.

  • thucy

    Scott Shafer just hit the nail on the head – perfect pitch empathy with his insight into the special hardship of suburban poor living amid such ostentatious wealth.

    Give this man a more regular slot, it’s great to get a reporter in this slot. Reason to pledge!!!

  • aa aa

    I agree being poor in suburbia can be much harder in some ways. Because I was owed child support by my daughter’s father, I moved from a tiny, downtown rent-controlled apartment in Berkeley , which had BART, AC transit and school bus access, to his spare cottage in a completely car-dependent town on the Peninsula. The worst problem by far was transportation. With no school buses and no public transit to his house, when my car went out for about a month, I had to walk a mile while 7-8 months pregnant to get my child to and from school. When I went into labor, the child’s father was, as was usual, forty miles away at work, and my only friend was tied up with her elderly mother so there was no way to get to a hospital without calling an ambulance–which then had to be funded by taxpayers. A clinic accepting MediCal was accessible by foot and always open in Berkeley, but miles away by car and rarely open in San Mateo County, so my kid missed the complete series of varicella vaccine,: another suboptimal and unnecessary public health outcome. A lot of the problems (including commute congestion) here could be ameliorated if the the local school district simply funded school buses, and yet they won’t. Money is instead spent on what I consider to be rather extravagant school camping trips, rather than the basics of transportation to and from school for us–the local “peasants”–with kids.

  • Imelda Edwards

    Permit me to share a letter I recently sent to our State Assembly members that relates well with this important topic:

    Dear Member
    of the State Assembly:

    I write in full support of the Governor’s LCFF proposal
    to provide every student, regardless of zip code or socio-economic background,
    access to excellent education.

    This letter
    is not constructed from a template. I’ve
    had an opportunity to witness two contrasting schools. One is in a high performing district while
    the other is struggling to meet the State’s API target. I’ve
    come to the conclusion that the difference among the schools is the amount of
    funds available to each one. My son
    has experienced attending a mediocre school (Antioch) and a high performing affluent
    school (Dublin). The difference in educational
    quality is stark. In Dublin, all
    classrooms are equipped with high tech gadgets — remote controlled projectors,
    microphones and laptops. All students
    have access to highly credentialed teachers – teachers who have been named
    teacher of the year with post-graduate degrees.
    After-school programs are available to help kids with homework and tests. Classrooms and bathrooms are presentable,
    and its website informative and well-maintained. School provides only nutritious lunches.

    In contrast,
    I had to donate a pencil sharpener for my son’s class in Antioch. Most classrooms and bathrooms are filthy; no air-conditioning;
    playing at school playground before or after school is not allowed; student-teacher
    ratio is high; teachers are overworked and underpaid; lunch food quality
    is subpar. No wonder the students are unmotivated
    and low-performing.

    Based on the
    foregoing, which school would you send
    your kid? Parents should not have to
    move to another zip code to provide their kid with exceptional education.

    Very truly

    Imelda Edwards

    CA 94531

    • aa aa

      This comment, about school funding, does not really pertain to the issue discussed. Both Antioch & Dublin are suburban areas. The program was about suburban poverty and the difficulty the poor face in suburbia compared to urban areas.
      Frankly, as one who has gone to very poorly equipped but still excellent schools in Madrid Spain (called Runnymede) and Denmark (called Aarhus Katedralskole) as well as a public school in an Appalachian college town that produced both HS drop outs and Ivy League grads (including myself, who went to Stanford & Maya Lin who needs no introduction) I find your emphasis on equipment and facilities way overblown. By your reasoning, Runnymede & Aarhus Katedralskole should be bad schools, but in fact they were far superior to many far more well-equipped US public schools. Yes, schools should have enough funding to maintain bathrooms, and lunch nutrition matters. But much more important than “high tech gadgets” is the actual value placed on education: e.g., how much literature do students actually read (my son’s local HS barely assigned any classic literature), how many foreign languages do they learn, do they get calculus, physics and chemistry? Frankly, that understanding–that it’s more about what’s studied and the homework than the niceness of the facilities–comes as much from parents as from teachers.

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