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In Levittown’s Shadow

Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb


In Levittown’s Shadow

Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb


Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

Highlights how low-wage residents have struggled to live and work in a place usually thought of as affluent: suburbia.
There is a familiar narrative about American suburbs: after 1945, white residents left cities for leafy, affluent subdivisions and the prosperity they seemed to embody. In Levittown’s Shadow tells us there’s more to this story, offering an eye-opening account of diverse, poor residents living and working in those same neighborhoods. Tim Keogh shows how public policies produced both suburban plenty and deprivation—and why ignoring suburban poverty doomed efforts to reduce inequality.
Keogh focuses on the suburbs of Long Island, home to Levittown, often considered the archetypal suburb. Here military contracts subsidized well-paid employment welding airplanes or filing paperwork, while weak labor laws impoverished suburbanites who mowed lawns, built houses, scrubbed kitchen floors, and stocked supermarket shelves. Federal mortgage programs helped some families buy orderly single-family homes and enter the middle class but also underwrote landlord efforts to cram poor families into suburban attics, basements, and sheds. Keogh explores how policymakers ignored suburban inequality, addressing housing segregation between cities and suburbs rather than suburbanites’ demands for decent jobs, housing, and schools.
By turning our attention to the suburban poor, Keogh reveals poverty wasn’t just an urban problem but a suburban one, too. In Levittown’s Shadow deepens our understanding of suburbia’s history—and points us toward more effective ways to combat poverty today.

336 pages | 13 halftones, 8 tables | 6 x 9

Historical Studies of Urban America

Black Studies

History: American History, Urban History


In Levittown’s Shadow shows us how the postwar US suburb was both better and worse than you might think, establishing what we might even characterize as a social-democratic welfare state for some, but one built on the exploitation and immiseration of others. This excellent book thus complicates our histories of the character and development of the US welfare state, undermines the myth of the poverty-free suburb, and deepens our understandings of the long roots of today’s widespread suburban poverty.” 

Stephen Pimpare, University of New Hampshire

“There are more people living below the poverty line in suburbs than in urban centers today. Keogh pulls back the curtain on the longer history of this suburban poverty, explaining how Americans embraced suburbs as exceptionally prosperous spaces while also writing policies that made inequality a core component of suburban growth. In Levittown’s Shadow is a compelling, urgent study—one that points a way out of this complex history toward a more equitable, just, and thriving future.” 

Nancy Kwak, University of California San Diego

Table of Contents


1. The Future Detroit of the East
From Residential to Industrial Suburbia

2. The Crabgrass Wasn’t Always Greener
Poverty Amidst Suburban Plenty

3. Attics, Basements, and Sheds
Housing the Poor during the Suburban Boom

4. Fair without Full Employment
The Limits of Equal Opportunity

5. The Suburban War on Poverty

6. Shouldering Their “Fair Share”
Why the Suburbs Could Not Resolve the “Urban Crisis”

7. The Long Island Miracle
Suburbia into the Next Century

Lessons from Long Island’s Past

List of Abbreviations

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