American Dreams Denied: Suburbia Sold Out

Grigoris Argeros

In the traditional American image of suburbia, the majority of residents are predominately native-born white Americans, living in large single-family houses enclosed by white picket fences.

Americans presume that moving to such suburbs will offer them access to resources and opportunities to improve their quality of life – with, for example, better schools, less crime and lower poverty rates.

But that image represents a bygone era.

I have examined data from the American Community Survey. American suburbs are changing – socioeconomically, demographically and structurally. As more people of color move there, they might not find the full range of opportunities and resources that white European ethnic groups did for most of the previous century.

The American dream

The dream of a good suburban life exists for all racial and ethnic group members, both native and foreign-born.

Traditionally, as people earned more money, they eventually move from less desirable central cities to more desirable suburbs.

This path worked for the majority of white European ethnic groups. such as Greeks and Italians, through most of the 20th century. As they spent more time in the U.S., improved their English and earned more money – in other words, as they adapted to American culture, they eventually moved out of cities and into higher-income suburbs.

There are many different ways to describe the differences between and desirability of suburbs. One focuses on housing construction: mature suburbs, with most of their housing built before 1969, and those that are still developing, with most of their housing built after 1970.

On average, developing suburbs are wealthier, with a larger white population.

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