Soaring Suburban Poverty Catches Communities Unprepared
Peter S. Goodman
EDGEWATER, Colo. — Before the unraveling, Selena Blanco and her family felt secure in their hold on middle class life in this bedroom community just west of Denver. She and her husband both held professional jobs in industries that seemed sheltered from trouble, his in technology, hers in health care. Together they brought home $100,000 a year, enough to allay concerns about paying the bills, let alone having to ask for help.
But over the last two years, both have lost their jobs. Her unemployment check ran out in the spring, leaving them to subsist on his jobless benefits alone, about $1,500 a month.
The Blanco’s shattered fortunes have supplied them an unwanted new status, one they share with millions of suburban households in a nation previously accustomed to thinking of suburbia in upwardly mobile terms: They are poor.
They are officially so according to the federal government’s definition, which sets the poverty line for a family of five at an annual income of $26,023 or less. It is viscerally true when one sees how Blanco, 28, now spends her day. She takes her four-year-old son to a county-operated Headstart program, free preschool for the poor. She forages for clothes at thrift stores. She scrounges for coupons to keep her family fed.
“We were doing well,” Blanco says, dabbing at reddening eyes with a tissue, trying to make sense of events that contradict her understanding of what is supposed to happen to people who work, save and provide for their children. “My husband and I would go out to eat without even thinking about it. We bought shoes. When I needed a bra, I went to Victoria’s Secret. Now we’re like, ‘Which Goodwill is having a sale?’”