America’s suburbs, an election battleground, now more diverse, home to lots of working women

FILE PHOTO: Customers are seen at the Home Team Pub which has recently introduced strict social distancing rules after reopening from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in the Syracuse suburb of Liverpool, New York, U.S. July 22, 2020. (REUTERS/Maranie Staab/File Photo)

BY HOWARD SCHNEIDER

America’s suburbs were key to Donald Trump winning the presidency in 2016, and he and his 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, are battling for votes there ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

The Republican president highlighted his focus with recent comments about “suburban housewives” welcoming his protection and a Wall Street Journal column on Sunday that warned of a “dystopian vision” of low-income housing.

U.S. suburbs were initially well-defined white enclaves on the edge of cities when they sprang up during the post-World War Two baby boom. The families that lived in them were often structured around a single income – the man’s – and a single caretaker – the woman.

While it is hard to characterize a country as diverse as the United States, or even to define what a “suburb” is anymore, the neighborhoods within commuting distance to a major U.S. city look very different today.

They have become more dense, more diverse and less centered on nuclear families. About 36% of the U.S. population now lives in a county that is classified as a suburb under a rubric developed by William Frey at the Brookings Institution, up from 33% in 2000.

DIVERSITY

Suburban counties still tend to be whiter than the rest of the country, while U.S. cities are more diverse.

But the overall racial makeup of the major suburban counties is close to that of the country as a whole, based on Frey’s classification.

In the Wall Street Journal column Trump co-authored with Housing Secretary Ben Carson, they stated that a majority of Blacks and Hispanics live in suburbs. It did not make clear what counties were included in that tabulation – there is no standard definition.

Under Frey’s rendering, there are 488 suburban counties associated with the 100 largest metros, and Blacks in the cities outnumber those in the suburbs by about 2-to-1. The ratio for Hispanics is smaller.

In July, Trump said his administration would rescind a Barack Obama-era rule that required communities receiving federal housing aid to assess racial segregation in housing and offer plans to correct it.

WHERE THE KIDS ARE

The share of families with children at home is slightly higher in the suburbs than in cities, according to a classification of counties developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is an even bigger gap, however, between households with children in the suburbs and in small towns or rural areas.

ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION

The U.S. suburbs’ GDP share has not been growing, at least before the coronavirus hit earlier this year. Knowledge industries have flocked to cities. Manufacturing needs space. Malls and office parks may have seen their best days.

The post-pandemic age may change much about how the United States organizes itself, but the advantage in that shift may accrue to smaller places, not cities or suburbs. Since 2000, the GDP share among the suburbs has been stagnant.

Poverty rates rose in U.S. suburbs in the 2000s, and climbed 57% in the country’s largest metro areas between 2000 and 2015, Brookings calculated.

HOUSEWIVES

The suburbs are no longer a hub of stay-at-home moms, unlike the popular image of such communities in the 1950s. Today, many married women work, and fewer adult women are married.

Trump’s support has eroded in the suburbs because of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in which 170,000 Americans have died. Recent Reuters polling shows that white suburban Americans are far more worried about the economy and healthcare than crime.

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