cover image In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb

In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb

Tim Keogh. Univ. of Chicago, $26 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-226-82775-9

Keogh (War and the City), a professor of urban history at CUNY Queensborough Community College, argues in this revealing study of Long Island suburbs that the “popular image of postwar suburbs” as havens of abundance is “a myth.” These communities, and in particular Levittown, were not “free of poverty,” Keogh contends, but instead were plagued by “rats and evictions, unemployment and low wages, overcrowding and deindustrialization.” Mid-century suburbanization enabled many households to improve their quality of life by moving into newly built single-family homes (and, in Levittown, taking jobs in the booming defense industry); but, according to Keogh, this lifestyle depended on poorly paid workers who provided domestic services, cleaned factory floors, worked in home construction, and labored on farms. Lacking sufficient income, these residents lived in often overcrowded, quasi-legal, under-maintained, and hazardous housing. Meanwhile, urban activists assumed that problems of race and poverty could be addressed by relocating the poor from cities to the suburbs, where they could take advantage of housing and employment opportunities, but failed to appreciate the extent to which these opportunities were not available to Black people or immigrants. Suburban poverty continued to grow over the course of the 20th century, and “since 2000,” Keogh writes, the suburbs “have become the primary residence of America’s poor.” Keogh provides an accessible and convincing synthesis of statistics, institutional history, and sociological analysis. It’s a landmark account. (Nov.)