46 min

Tim Keogh on Suburban Poverty and the Roots of Postwar Inequality Who Makes Cents?: A History of Capitalism Podcast

    • History

In 2022, roughly one in 10 suburban residents lived in poverty (9.6%), compared to about one in six in primary cities (16.2%), according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute. The issue of suburban poverty has garnered significant attention, prompting more than a bit of nostalgia for the good ole days of when suburbs were prosperous, living proof of the American dream. This narrative of postwar suburbia as prosperous, if also exclusive places, has been reinforced by historians and other scholars who, over the years, have shown how the federal government via FHA-insured mortgages and other programs facilitated a dramatic rise in suburban homeownership after WWII, while laregely restricting access through covenants and zoning laws to White Americans.
But is this the full story? In this month's episode, Tim Keogh challenges this narrative, demonstrating that for many the postwar American suburban dream was more myth than reality. Alongside exclusive white middle-class communities, Keogh explains how the suburbs have long served as home to low-income residents, whose labor in construction, retail, childcare and a range of other low-wage jobs helped enable suburban prosperity in the absence of a robust welfare state. Along the way, we explore the policy decisions that helped to ensure poverty's persistence alongside prosperity and what we can do today to eliminate poverty wherever it might appear.
 
 

In 2022, roughly one in 10 suburban residents lived in poverty (9.6%), compared to about one in six in primary cities (16.2%), according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute. The issue of suburban poverty has garnered significant attention, prompting more than a bit of nostalgia for the good ole days of when suburbs were prosperous, living proof of the American dream. This narrative of postwar suburbia as prosperous, if also exclusive places, has been reinforced by historians and other scholars who, over the years, have shown how the federal government via FHA-insured mortgages and other programs facilitated a dramatic rise in suburban homeownership after WWII, while laregely restricting access through covenants and zoning laws to White Americans.
But is this the full story? In this month's episode, Tim Keogh challenges this narrative, demonstrating that for many the postwar American suburban dream was more myth than reality. Alongside exclusive white middle-class communities, Keogh explains how the suburbs have long served as home to low-income residents, whose labor in construction, retail, childcare and a range of other low-wage jobs helped enable suburban prosperity in the absence of a robust welfare state. Along the way, we explore the policy decisions that helped to ensure poverty's persistence alongside prosperity and what we can do today to eliminate poverty wherever it might appear.
 
 

46 min

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