Covering Suburban Poverty

Poverty is a national crisis; 1 in 5 American children lives below the poverty line. And what many Americans do not know is that the suburbs are now home to a third of the nation’s poor. From 2000 to 2010, poverty grew almost five times faster in the suburbs of major cities than in the cities themselves, according to researchers at the Brookings Institute.

Impoverished residents of the suburbs face distinct challenges. Even cities with good public transportation might not have adequate service in and between suburbs and the city. The cost of living might grow faster than wages; and safety nets, already fraying, were not designed to handle suburban poor.

These resources are designed to aid journalists in covering this growing class of Americans: the suburban poor. They'll guide journalists to data and organizations that can help them:

  • Debunk myths about poverty
  • Examine the psychological effects of poverty
  • Identify individuals in crisis who can put faces on the problem
  • Create ethical journalism that tells the story of child poverty
  • Understand and navigate the social services agencies charged with helping the suburban poor

These resources are provided as part of the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute, “Poverty in the Suburbs: The New Poor, the Old Poor and the Growing Poor," held September 26-27 at Hofstra University, located on Long Island in New York. The workshop, hosted by Hofstra University's Lawrence Herbert School of Communication and its National Center for Suburban Studies, was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

Scott W. Allard, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, is an expert on urban poverty, employment among low-skill workers, residential mobility, among other subjects. Email:

Patti Banghart, project manager for the CDF-NY’s Early Childhood Systems Building Initiative, is an expert on early childhood development and education and support for low-income families and children. Email:

Michael Hanley, Housing Attorney at the Rochester office of the Empire Justice Center; expert on civil rights and policy reform. Tel.: (585) 454-4060; email:

Lawrence Levy, the executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra, is a prize-winning journalist, columnist, editorial writer and PBS talk show host. Tel.: (516) 463-9770; email:

Christopher Niedt, academic director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra, is an expert on effects of metropolitan growth and decline on race and class inequality. Tel.: (516) 463-4073; email:

Trudi Renwick, Chief, Poverty Statistics Branch – Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division, Census Bureau; expert on poverty statistics and economics. Tel.: (301) 763-5133; email:

Curtis Skinner, Director, Family Economic Security, National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University; expert on workforce development, labor demand, immigration, and housing. Email:

Twitter Resources

Follow These Handles

@BLS_gov: The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is a great source for data on the economy.

@uscensusbureau: Another great source of data and statistics on the American population.

@gregkaufmann: Poverty correspondent for The Nation

@bbabbo1: Barbara Rabb is a senior producer of the NBC News project on poverty in America, "In Plain Sight."

@FeedingAmerica: Nationwide hunger-relief charity helping millions of Americans yearly. including 14 million children and 3 million seniors

@grivlin: Gary Rivlin, journalist, author, fellow at the Nation Institute

@strongserg: Sergio Argueta, founder of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, Inc. and director of Adelphi University School of Social Work; expert on social justice and gangs

@plbanghart: Patti Banghart, Project Manager for the CDF-NY’s Early Childhood Systems Building Initiative; expert on early childhood development and education and supports for low-income families and children

Watch These Hashtags




Blogs Worth Reading

Rooflines, the Shelterforce blog, published by the National Housing Institute

What Others Are Doing

Hunger in the Valley of Plenty, Martha Mendoza, KQED and The Center for Investigative Reporting, Oct. 11, 2013

A Year Later, Still Homeless in Bellmore after Superstorm Sandy, Scott Brinton, Merrick Herald, Oct. 9, 2013

'I Know How It Is to Struggle': A Bridge Out of Poverty in Mississippi town, Robbie Ward, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Oct. 3, 2013

Legacy of Foreclosures and Short Sales Imperil West End Homeowners, Jere Downs, Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 3, 2013

Poverty — the Story of Us All, Scott Brinton, Merrick Herald, Oct. 3, 2013

New Knowledge, New Habits, and a Way Out of Poverty, Robbie Ward, The Daily Journal, Sept. 30, 2013

Key Resources

Web Resources

The Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is the leading source for data on household financial security and policy solutions. State-by-state report cards are provided.

Elizabeth Kneebone & Alan Berube of The Brookings Institution wrote a book and created a website and action toolkit, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.

The Coalition on Human Needs compiled this report on Impacts of Sequestration and Federal Shutdown.

Covering Poverty: A toolkit for journalists.

Feeding America The nation's largest network of food banks is a great place to find resources for stories on hunger, school lunch programs, food pantries, and the like. Their media team can connect journalists with local info and spokespeople.

The Heritage Foundation project on Poverty and Inequality dissects what it means to be poor in America.

Kids Count data center offers statistics on child poverty.

The National Center for Children in Poverty has a wealth of data and tools that journalists can use to deepen coverage of suburban poverty.

  • How much does it cost to live in your area? A basic Budget Needs Calculator, like this one from the National Center for Children in Poverty, can help you put some numbers with your story to add context.

National Employment Law Project: State-by-state tables detail cutbacks in unemployment insurance for long-term unemployed.

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is a nonpartisan initiative seeking solutions to economic hardships confronting Americans.

U.S. Census Data can provide story ideas and key facts and figures, for example, the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates breaks down data to the level of school districts or the number of people in extreme poverty. Check out AmericanFactFinder for more data tools based on the census.

USDA SNAP: How Much Could I Receive?: Federal SNAP information site.

Resources from the SRI

Scott Allard's presentation, Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty and the American Safety Net, explains trends in poverty and the challenges stretching the safety net beyond its limits.

Patti Banghart's presentation, A Portrait of Poor Children in America, presents data on child poverty; Banghart is the project manager for the CDF-NY’s Early Childhood Systems Building Initiative and an expert on early childhood development and education and support for low-income families and children.

Michael Hanley, of the Empire Justice Center, gave a three-part presentation, How Detailed Data Analysis Reveals the True Face of Suburban Poverty, which includes a wealth of data and statistics as well as tips on what poverty-related issues journalists should notice and cover:

Trudi Renwick, of the U.S. Census Bureau, presented Measuring Suburban Poverty: Concepts and Data Sources, which is rich with graphs and charts.

Curtis Skinner, of the National Center for Children in Poverty, presented Who is Poor? How to measure poverty and why it matters, offering different ways to define and measure poverty.

News Coverage of Poverty in America

Greg Kaufman's work for The Nation

Rich People Just Care Less, Daniel Goleman, The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2013

About 15% of Americans live in poverty, so why is no one talking about it?, Daniel A. Medina, The Guardian, Oct. 5, 2013

Troubling numbers point to uncertain economic recovery, John Yang, NBC News, Sept. 17, 2013

White Privilege and The Suburban Safety Net, Scott Allard and Peter Sabonis, The Lines Between Us, Maryland's Your Public Radio, Sept. 13, 2013

Cul-de-Sac Poverty, Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, The New York Times, May 20, 2013

Suburban Disequilibrium, Becky M. Nicolaides and Andrew Wiese, The New York Times, April 6, 2013

In Plain Sight series, Barbara Rabb, NBC News:

America Now: Lost in Suburbia, a six-part Dateline NBC series that aired starting June 26, 2012

"So Rich, So Poor": Peter Edelman on Ending U.S. Poverty & Why He Left Clinton Admin over Welfare Law, interview with Peter Edelman, Democracy Now, May 23, 2012

The New Suburban Poverty, Lisa McGirr, The New York Times, March 19, 2012

Additional links to media coverage of American poverty: Dozens of articles and links to studies, reports and more compiled by Gabby Anania.


Webinar Replays

Covering Poverty in the Suburbs Webinar: Learn how you can find and tell powerful stories about this growing class of Americans: the suburban poor. Presented by Barbara Raab, senior producer of the NBC News initiative “In Plain Sight: Poverty in America.”

Getting Ahead of the Food Price Story: Food supply impacts everyone; rising prices can result from a number of causes. Learn how to read the numbers and dig up local and regional data that help you tell the stories that are relevant to your audience.

The State of Metro America: Key Trends for the Future: Learn about trends in American cities — aging, poverty, race and ethnicity and immigration.

Additional NewsU Training Resources

Resources for Reporting on the Economy and Mental Health: A resources page from a 2012 SRI on covering the effects of the poor economy on American families