A Growing Number Of Suburban Chicagoans Are Living In Poverty | WBEZ
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A Growing Number Of Suburban Chicagoans Are Living In Poverty

A growing share of people in poverty live in suburban areas, both in the Chicago region and other metropolitan areas across the country, according to a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council. 

Also growing are the number of Latinos living in Chicago suburbs below the federal poverty line.

Between 2010 and 2016, Chicago’s population of suburban residents living below the poverty line increased by 270,000 people, a 54 percent increase. Over that same six year period, the number of Latino residents living in poverty in Chicago suburbs increased by 72 percent, according to the study.

To discuss the factors driving the phenomenon — and the related effects of anti-immigration policies and rhetoric coming from the federal government — WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with Shehara Waas, a researcher with the Metropolitan Planning Council, and Scott Allard, a University of Washington professor and author of Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty. Below are highlights. 

What’s causing the increase in suburban Latinos living in poverty?

Shehara Waas: When you look at the drivers, you have to consider a couple of things. We know that certainly there is in-migration. There are new arrivals to the Chicago region that, for whatever reason, they’re deciding to bypass the city altogether and deciding to settle in the suburbs. 

Certainly another component of this could be residents that are struggling with affordability in the city. So residents that are getting displaced. We know that there are a number of neighborhoods where the concerns over gentrification are very real. So you see displacement for these kind of longtime residents, choosing to move to the suburbs and sometimes leave the region altogether, which is definitely troubling.

How are suburban areas responding?

Scott Allard: You can go to certain communities in suburban Chicago and find areas where there are community-based organizations that are working in clear partnership with city officials or township officials. And trying to help Latino residents in particular, but all low-income residents grab the next rung on the ladder. 

I think in my work in metro Chicago over the last decade, I saw the real serious impact of anti-immigrant sentiment in many communities, which I think had not only a chilling effect on the willingness of families to seek help, but forced a lot of organizations to keep their profile on the down low. To kind of hide almost that they were serving immigrant residents, or to just not be able to provide those services altogether. Being defunded or finding it really hard to find support for those programs. I think that it amplifies the challenges that low-skill workers face in those communities, to find a better job when there aren’t support services that are available.

Waas: We can look at some of the communities that we have here in the Chicago suburbs that have been very open about being sanctuary cities. One example that definitely comes to mind: Oak Park. They have made it very clear that they are very committed to ensuring their services are accessible for new Latino arrivals to Chicago. Certainly the rhetoric from Washington definitely plays into that, but there are some really great examples of communities that have said, “We want to be an example in leading for equity and inclusion and accepting everyone that wants to be here.”

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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