Michigan’s Wealthiest County Sees ‘Seismic’ 77% Increase in Poverty During Great Recession

“It’s not somebody in the deepest part of Detroit or Pontiac,” said former marketing manager for Fortune 500 companies who found herself unemployed and homeless. “It’s somebody standing next to you in the grocery store who can’t afford the broccoli.”

A new report shows a "seismic shift" in poverty from urban areas to suburbs, including communities in affluent Oakland County. (Patch file photo)
A new report shows a "seismic shift" in poverty from urban areas to suburbs, including communities in affluent Oakland County. (Patch file photo)

A new report shows that suburban residents are increasingly becoming mired in poverty, a “seismic shift” that challenges assumptions about where poor people now live, Lighthouse of Oakland County CEO and President John Ziraldo said.

His agency’s report, “Combating Poverty in Oakland County” shows that poverty grew 77 percent during the Great Recession years of 2005-2012, resulting in more than 118,000 residents – 37,184 of them children – in Oakland County living at or below the federal poverty guideline.

Lighthouse opened a center in Pontiac 42 years ago to deliver services to urban residents. It wasn’t surprising that poverty there increased 49 percent during the recession years, social service providers said in announcing the findings in the report, but simultaneous 76 percent increase in suburban communities shows the “place” of poverty has changed and become more suburban.

Lighthouse is now serving clients from the majority of communities throughout the county's 908 square miles.  

From 2009-2013, the number of clients served from communities in south and west Oakland County grew by 200 percent or more.  

Farmington, Novi, Clawson, Royal Oak, Madison Heights, Ferndale, Berkley, Southfield, Hazel Park, Franklin, Wixom and Walled Lake were among the suburbs with the fastest growing population of clients seeking Lighthouse services.  

The report mirrors a national trend of increasing suburban poverty documented in The Brookings Institution's report Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, published in 2013.

Gilda Jacobs, a former state senator from Huntington Woods and now president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said during a news conference announcing the report that its findings are  mind-numbing” for affluent suburban residents who have been oblivious to poverty in their back yards, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Immediate steps that can be taken to help alleviate poverty include restoring the earned-income tax credit to assist the working poor who are under-employed and increasing the minimum wage, Jacobs said.

“I guess I am the new face of poverty” in Oakland County, Bridget Agnello, 49, said at the news conference. Formerly a marketing manager for Fortune 500 companies and a college graduate, she became homeless after losing her job during the Great Recession, and then her Ferndale home.

“It’s not somebody in the deepest part of Detroit or Pontiac,” she said. “It’s somebody standing next to you in the grocery store who can’t afford the broccoli.”

In Oakland County, a family of three needs an annual income of $46,944 to meet their basic needs, an income level that is 240 percent of the federal poverty line.  

Not only does Oakland County have more people living below the poverty line, (federal definition is a family of three with an annual income below $19,530), it also has more than 191,000 residents with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, officials said.

Consequently, "more than 14 percent of Oakland County residents who live just above the poverty line struggle to meet their basic needs without support from the public or private safety net," Ziraldo said..

The new report will help social service providers and policymakers better understand the “new poor” and the factors contributing to the increase in poverty in affluent areas like Oakland County, including an exodus of Detroiters who left the city for suburbs seeking a better quality of life.

The report also sheds light on some of the unique challenges of suburban poverty, such as limitations of public transportation and social services.

"We see clearly the growing need in suburban communities throughout Southeastern Michigan,” said Michael Brennen, president of CEO of United Way of Southeastern Michigan. “Our commitment is to continue to help our suburban community partners, such as Lighthouse, meet that need."  

Additional Resources

Dale Murrish April 28, 2014 at 05:38 PM
Clinton Baller, I’m not an investment expert, but I think I could invest 15% of my income (employee plus employer contribution) and do better than the government, which actually is paying today’s benefits with today’s taxes. No compound interest effect at all. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan had a plan to allow younger workers to invest their own retirement money, while keeping the program solvent for current retirees and those about to retire. Seem to remember it was derided. A Democrat presidential candidate (Al Gore?) famously claimed to be keeping a “lock box” on Social Security. It was and is a lock box filled with IOUs. Meanwhile, the workforce participation rate is at its lowest since WW2 or something like that. Who will pay for the future retirees if fewer people are working today?
niteman April 29, 2014 at 12:53 PM
Yeah Dale, just think if the GOP had their way in the mid-2000's and privatized Social Security, not only would the elderly be without ANY SS benefits but the young folks would've seen their investment tank with the stock market too. Great strategy for reinvestment. By the way, as of April 29, 2014 - so far the US govt has made 32 BILLION dollars in INFLOW (i.e. interest made on the bail-out loans of the Bush ear). Not a bad investment considering the Republican alternative of letting everyone fail (except the banksters of course) and let the free-market sort it out. In other words, we would've had the Great Depression instead of the Great Recession. The reason Ryan's so-called budget plans are derided is because they deserve to be. If you call the continued lunacy of giving all the breaks to the top brackets and letting the rest of us pay for it as a viable plan....Well...You must've been asleep for the last 34 years because the only thing that trickled down is p*ss on the middle/lower class heads. By the way, Social Security in NOT AN ENTITLEMENT like those on the wrong side of history like to call it. We have all paid into it and we should all expect something out of it. It will never be insolvent either unless all the younger people (who've not yet retired) die at the exact same time.
windy mom May 15, 2014 at 03:04 PM
Read this article regarding the skewed numbers poblished by Lighthouse of Oakland County. http://www.oakgov.com/news/Pages/pr_14_57.aspx
windy mom May 15, 2014 at 03:06 PM
Dale Murrish May 15, 2014 at 10:26 PM
Interesting post. We support Grace Centers of Hope: http://troy.patch.com/groups/dale-murrishs-blog/p/turning-the-light-on-in-pontiac


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