HISTORY

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

Univ. of Chicago Nov. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780226827759. pap. $26. HIST
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Keogh (history, Queensborough Community Coll.; Kinder Conversations) explains that Levittown, a suburb of Long Island, started with employment opportunities for mainly Black people and newly arrived immigrants in the 20th century’s exploding military contracts industry. The houses built for workers there were overcrowded, poorly constructed, and hazardous. Rats ran through the residences of renters who hoped they could, at least, keep working, in spite of earning only minimum wage. The author points out that some federal mortgage programs helped many of these families purchase their own single-family homes, but policy makers also made it possible for landlords to put low-income families in small and subpar spaces, such as attics, basements, and more. He says living conditions today, in many cases, are just as bad for some in the area, and many face the looming threat of unemployment. Although those who live in Levittown live quite close to affluent areas on Long Island, they are not offered the same economic advantages their wealthy neighbors receive. The author asserts that many policymakers have ignored the inequalities in the suburbs since the 1940s, but he offers feasible recommendations to reduce the gaps. But the solutions start with voters.
VERDICT A brilliant analysis of suburban poverty.
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