The current issue of the University of Chicago magazine features a story, “On the line,” that discusses the impact of the recession on the residents and nonprofit agencies of Chicago. Drawing on themes and findings from my book, Out of Reach, Lydialyle Gibson provides vivid examples of how community-based organizations in Chicago and the people they serve are coping amidst rising unemployment and depleted program resources.
To a greater degree than other recent economic recessions, the current downturn has hit suburban communities particularly hard. A recent Brookings Institution report by Elizabeth Kneebone and Emily Garr shows there are nearly twice as many unemployed Americans living in suburbs as in cities. Likewise, food stamp caseloads have increased at a much faster rate in suburban areas than in urban centers. Not surprisingly, many suburban nonprofit service organizations report significant increases in need and in the number of families seeking help for the first time from the safety net.
This past summer my research assistant, Ben Roth, and I have been interviewing a small sample of public and nonprofit organizations that help working poor families in the suburbs of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Our work from this summer is briefly summarized in a short research report entitled, “Suburbs in Need”, which is available at my website along with more detail about our study.
Although we are still collecting data and will publish a final report in early 2010, a couple key findings from this short research brief highlight the challenges facing service providers in suburban areas:
- 44% of nonprofits interviewed reported a decrease in a key revenue source in the past year.
- The typical nonprofit in our study reported a 70% increase in demand for assistance or services in the past year.
- Almost 80% of nonprofits in the study that received public funding anticipated cuts to that funding in the coming fiscal year.
- 41% of the nonprofits we interviewed are anticipating having to expand waitlists for services in the coming year.
While the Census Bureau’s poverty report for 2008 has yet to be released, our findings are suggestive about the impact of the recession on working poor families in metropolitan areas – suburban and urban communities alike. Moreover, many states and localities will have to make additional social assistance program expenditure cuts in late 2009 and 2010 to cope with persistent budget deficits, which means that the help working poor families need until they can find a job will be harder and harder to find.