Economic Insecurity


James A. Brooks, National League of Cities
Margaret Weir, University of California, Berkeley
Sarah Reckhow, Michigan State University
Todd Swanstrom, University of Missouri – St. Louis

Tracking the New World of Metropolitan Economic Insecurity

The Economic Insecurity group has two main projects: the growing dispersion of poverty, and the impact of foreclosures on local communities.

Poverty research The project on the growing dispersion of metropolitan poverty documents the response of philanthropic and nonprofit leaders to the new locations and components of poverty.  As part of this project, the working group is compiling an original dataset of foundation grants for social services, a map of poverty and grant-making, and interviews with lead actors in Chicago, Atlanta, and Detroit.

Foreclosure research—The foreclosure project documents the geographic distribution and neighborhood characteristics of subprime loans and foreclosed properties. Foreclosures are occurring throughout metropolitan areas, including new exurban developments. Older parts of metropolitan areas often have well-developed civic infrastructures for dealing with housing problems rooted in decades of organizing on community development and reinvestment. However, outlying parts of metropolitan areas may lack this civic infrastructure. It is therefore important to study how groups across metropolitan areas have mobilized to address the foreclosure challenge.

Key Findings on Shifting Poverty

  • In Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit, suburban poverty grew much faster than urban poverty between 2000 and 2008. In Atlanta and Detroit, more poor people live in suburbs than in cities.
  • Private foundations and community foundations are an important source of funding for new initiatives and experimental programs.
  • Community foundation assets are concentrated in cities; suburban community foundations have very limited assets.
  • Foundation grants to nonprofits in human services, workforce training, and housing (important service areas for assisting poor people) are concentrated in central cities in three of the four metro areas studied: Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver.
  • Denver has the highest rate of grant dollars/poor person, at nearly $14. Atlanta has the lowest, at only $1.78.
  • There is a mismatch between high-poverty suburban areas and grants for services. Poor suburbs receive the fewest grants, and those areas that do receive foundation funding are often not located in the suburban areas of greatest need.

– In metro Atlanta, suburban Cobb and Clayton counties have high poverty levels, yet very few grants to human services organizations.
– In the Chicago region, the southern suburbs of Cook County have significant poverty but few human services grantees.
– In metro Detroit, there are several human services grantees in southern Oakland County, where poverty is less severe. Yet there are few grantees in southern Wayne and southern Macomb counties, where poverty rates are higher.

  • Grant-making to promote systemic change and reform to the social safety net is strongest in Chicago.
  • Promising practices include:

– Chicago-based foundations worked with a new unified regional planning agency, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, to include human relations, education, health and social services. Doing so creates a standardized process for assessing some of the problems related to poverty at the regional scale and engages regional leaders in developing a long-range vision for how to address them.

– In Detroit, the Skillman Foundation brought together local organizations to explore the Center for Working Families concept, a national project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation designed to support financial stability for low-income families. This led to a new collaboration between the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and LISC Detroit to develop a regional network of Centers for Working Families, with United Way and LISC providing technical assistance, resources, data collection, and ongoing training.