Robert Estes had a steady job selling groceries in the Chicago suburb of Aurora until last year. He had held onto the job for two years, and the 33-year-old said the gig had allowed him to live a self-sufficient life.
"I always had my own place, my own car, bought my own food," he recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I was making it paycheck-to-paycheck. Then this happened, and it's like a slap in the face.
Estes was let go from his job, and has been forced to check into the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, a shelter for the homeless.
"When I first started here in '08, if we had 80 families, 90 families come in one distribution day, that was a big day," Marilyn Weisner, executive director of the pantry, tells the Sun Times. "Now we have routinely 260,280 families come."
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the unemployment rates in the greater Chicago area, the city itself and the state are all comparable. (They are, at most recent count, 10.4 percent, 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively.) But the anecdotal testament to the struggles of suburban unemployment are in keeping with broader studies of the crisis in the suburbs. According to The New Republic, roughly half the 6.6 million people who have lost their jobs in the Great Recession have been living in the suburbs. Indeed, of the 99 urban areas studied by Brookings in their 2011 study, "The Landscape of Recession: Unemployment and Safety Net Services Across Urban and Suburban America," just 14 saw the rate higher in a primary city as compared to the surrounding suburbs. Of the cities who saw more than 90 percent of their employment losses take place in the suburbs were Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Youngstown, Ohio, and Portland, Maine.
Why would some suburbs be more vulnerable than others, or more than their cities? Theories run the gamut, and include the kind of city near which the suburb is located. A city that was once an industrial giant might have a greater effect on the suburbs than cities suffering for other reasons, given that mills are often located in suburbs. But the struggles might also be chalked up to factors over which governments have far greater control as opposed to those related to globalization or other larger currents. In analyzing the employment climate surrounding Chicago, a report by Trib Local Wheaton points out that unemployment in the township of Wheaton was just below 6 percent while the figure stood at 10.7 percent for the West Chicago area. The difference could have arisen from many factors, including the different socioeconomic realities of the areas, as well as the high number of government workers in Wheaton. But Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk also said credit was due to the convenient location of local rail lines.
A report on suburban poverty put out by The New York Times links the general crisis of the suburbs in a variety of realms, including employment, to the country's foreclosure crisis. The Times, in conjunction with Brookings, noted that the rise in suburban poverty was greatest in areas most affected by the housing crisis, like Greensboro, N.C. That development has led to the attendant problems of construction workers stranded without jobs, among other issues. Indeed, the nation's suburbs as a whole have seen a growth of 53 percent of those living in poverty since 2000, as compared to 26 percent in cities.
"The whole political class is just getting the memo that Ozzie and Harriet don't live here anymore," Edward Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, told the Times.
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