What if they gave a recovery, and the middle class were never invited? Well, that’s an experiment we are running now, and, even with the recent strengthening of the jobs market, it’s not looking very good.
Today, we have some new extremes. Some of our coastal communities are as wealthy as any in the world. At the other extreme, we have some of America’s poorest communities. San Bernardino, for example, has America’s second-highest poverty rate for cities with population over 200,000.
One of the core barriers to economic prosperity in California is the price of housing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Policies designed to stifle the ability to develop land are based on flawed premises. These policies prevail because they are backed by environmentalists, and, most importantly, because they have played into the agenda of crony capitalists, Wall Street financiers, and public sector unions. But while the elites have benefit, ordinary working families have been condemned to pay extreme prices in mortgages, property taxes, or rents, to live in confined, unhealthy, ultra high-density neighborhoods. . . Earlier this month an economist writing for the American Enterprise Institute, Mark J. Perry, published a chart proving that over the past four years, more new homes were built in one city, Houston Texas, than in the entire state of California.
For the most part, the fastest-growing brain hubs are in the South and Intermountain West (which excludes the states on the Pacific Coast). Some of these places are usually not associated with the highest levels of academic achievement, and for the most, they still lag the national average in college graduation rates.
Regardless of the most recent data point, California’s job performance has been better than expected, and we should all be thankful for that. However, comparison with the United States average is not the only metric. Comparison with California’s potential is the correct metric, and there California is underperforming in a big way. Given all of its advantages, California should be leading the nation in job creation and opportunity.
The biggest issue facing the American economy, and our political system, is the gradual descent of the middle class into proletarian status. This process, which has been going on intermittently since the 1970s, has worsened considerably over the past five years, and threatens to turn this century into one marked by downward mobility.
. . . San Francisco and Houston are North America’s “emerging” global cities. They are also rival representative champions and exemplars of two models of civic development. San Francisco is the world’s technology capital; focused on the highest levels of the economic food chain; paragon of the new, intangible economy; and promoter environmental values and compact development. Houston is the closest thing to American laissez-faire; unabashed embracer of the old economy of tangible stuff, including unfashionable, but highly profitable, industries like oil, chemicals, and shipping.
In reality, the people who live along the coast should appreciate the “909ers” since they constitute the future – if there is much of one – for Southern California’s middle class. The region has suffered considerably since the Great Recession, in part because of a high concentration of subprime loans taken out on new houses. Yet, for all its problems, the Inland Empire has remained the one place in Southern California where working-class and middle-class people can afford to own a home.
A close look at recent migration data shows that a significant number of younger people do indeed prefer urban life and can endure, temporarily at least, the high housing costs that go with it. However, the data also show that as they age, Americans continue, in general, to shift to suburbs, and later smaller communities, looking to buy homes and start families.
With the social media frenzy at a fever pitch, people may be excused for thinking that Silicon Valley is still the main engine for growth in the technology sector. But a close look at employment data over time shows that tech jobs are dispersing beyond the Valley and its much-celebrated urban annex of San Francisco.
Historically, progressives were seen as partisans for the people, eager to help the working and middle classes achieve upward mobility even at expense of the ultra rich. But in California, and much of the country, progressivism has morphed into a political movement that, more often than not, effectively squelches the aspirations of the majority, in large part to serve the interests of the wealthiest.