Careful readers here may recall my links to articles by Joel Kotkin. Like Mark Steyn, he’s a demographics geek, only his interest is domestic demographics.
Perhaps no issue looms over American politics more than worsening inequality and the stunting of the road to upward mobility.
That ought to get the liberals’ attention!
Scholars of the geography of American inequality have different theses but on certain issues there seems to be broad agreement. An extensive examination by University of Washington geographer Richard Morrill found that the worst economic inequality is largely in the country’s biggest cities, as well as in isolated rural stretches in places like Appalachia, the Rio Grande Valley and parts of the desert Southwest.
I’m going to skip the rural pockets of inequality because who’s got any money in Appalachia? But the big cities? Oh yeah, there’s still lots of money in the big cities:
Most studies agree that large urban centers, which were once meccas of upward mobility, consistently have the highest level of inequality. The modern “back to the city” movement is increasingly less about creating opportunity rather than what former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called “a luxury product” focused on tapping the trickle down from the very wealthy. Increasingly our most “successful cities” have become as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”
The most profound level of inequality and bifurcated class structure can be found in the densest and most influential urban environment in North America — Manhattan. In 1980 Manhattan ranked 17th among the nation’s counties in income inequality; it now ranks the worst among the country’s largest counties.
The most commonly used measure of inequality is the Gini index, which ranges between 0, which would be complete equality (everyone in a community has the same income), and 1, which is complete inequality (one person has all the income, all others none). Manhattan’s Gini index stood at 0.596 in 2012, higher than that of South Africa before the Apartheid-ending 1994 election. (The U.S. average is 0.471.) If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 for which the World Bank reports data. In 2009 New York’s wealthiest one percent earned a third of the entire municipality’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.
You know what’s worse, libs? If Horatio Alger were writing today, he’d set his stories not in the Lower East Side, but in Fort Lee, NJ and Darien, CT!
Demographer Wendell Cox pointed out that the Harvard research found that commuting zones (similar to metropolitan areas) with less than 100,000 population average have the highest average upward income mobility.
You want to really choke on your chai? This is what else the Hahvid study reported:
[I]t actually found the highest rates of upward mobility in more sprawling, transit-oriented metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City, small cities of the Great Plains such as Bismarck, N.D.; Yankton, S.D.; Pecos, Texas; and even Bakersfield, Calif.
Salt Lake City…? Bakersfield…? Pecos, Texas…?
BUT THEY’RE ALL CONSERVATIVE ENCLAVES!!!!! (Including Bakersfield!)
It would seem that all the inner city disadvantaged have to do is move out of New York and LA to Bismark, North Dakota—instant riches (not least from the energy boom)!
Just don’t move upstate:
Another example of this dichotomy — perhaps best described as the dilemma of being a “red state” economy in a blue state — can be seen in upstate New York, where by virtually all the measurements of upward mobility — job growth, median income, income growth — the region ranked below long-impoverished southern Appalachia as of the mid-2000s. The prospect of developing the area’s considerable natural gas resources was welcomed by many impoverished small landowners, but it has been stymied by a coalition of environmentalists in local university towns and plutocrats and celebrities who have retired to the area or have second homes there, including many New York City-based “progressives.”
I could just stop here and dance my celebratory sand-in-the-face dance, but that would be dishonest. Or at least incomplete:
There is also a very clear correlation between high numbers of certain groups — notably African Americans but also Hispanics — and extreme inequality. Morrill’s analysis shows a huge confluence between states with the largest income gaps, largely in the South and Southwest, with the highest concentrations of these historically disadvantaged ethnic groups.
In contrast, Morrill suggests, areas that are heavily homogeneous, notably the “Nordic belt” that cuts across the northern Great Lakes all the way to the Seattle area, have the least degree of poverty and inequality. Morrill suggests that those areas dominated by certain ethnic backgrounds — German, Scandinavian, Asian — may enjoy far more upward mobility and less poverty than others.
Some, such as UC Davis’ Gregory Clark even suggest that parentage determines success more than anyone suspects — what the Economist has labeled “genetic determinism.” None of this is particularly pleasant but we need to understand the geography of inequality if we want to understand the root causes of why so many Americans remain stuck at the lower ends of the economic order.
This feels tacked on at the end, but it still raises an important—vital—issue. If people are still interested in having “conversations on race” (really more like conversations on “ra-a-a-acism!”), we should address this fundamental question. Did rich white folk put the black man in the ghetto, or is he unwilling or unable get out?
“None of this is particularly pleasant.” That’s putting it mildly.