I can almost taste the 1500 page view mark. We can do this people, this week even. How about it? Let go for it. This is a doable goal. I'll keep writing and you keep reading.
Today we return to the subject of suburbia. Specifically, the American suburbs and reports of its demise. I know I've repeatedly said that we are are becoming an urbanized society and I'll admit I've jumped on the "suburbs are dying" bandwagon, however in his article for the July issue of The Atlantic, "Are the Suburbs Where the American Dream Goes to Die?" Matthew O'Brien reports on the findings of a new study by the Equalitynof Opportunity Project led by Harvard Berkeley economists suggests that reports of the connection between geography and social mobility in the United States. It would seem that contemporary up-and-comers in the country have as much chance anywhere else in the world. Translation, if you want to move up, don't move to the American South.
So why does a future President Barack Obama from the Rust Belt or Southern states have a harder time climbing the ladder than a future president from West or East Coast states? The answer has little to do with progressive local taxes, the cost of college, or how unequal a place is. According to Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University and Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California-Berkeley, found that the progressiveness of taxes, the cost of college, and the equality of a place only slightly correlate with a region's social mobility. What seemed to matter the most was sprawl, the number of two-parent family households, the quality of elementary and high school education, and how involved people are in community and religious groups.
In his Monday OP-Ed column for the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/opinion/krugman-stranded-by-sprawl.html?nl=todaysheaflines&emc=edit_th_20130729&_r=0), Paul Krugman looks at how sprawl is strangling the city of Atlanta. Professor Krugman states the city is too spread out so at employment opportunities are out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods. Whereas, a child born in a more compact city such as San Francisco had a greater chance of making it to the top fifth social standing than the same child born in Atlanta. Let me qualify that, the number is 11% for the child born in San Francisco versus 4% for the child born in Atlanta. Does that sound really encouraging to you? I don't think so. In Atlanta, the upper and lower class neighborhoods are further apart simply because so is everything else. Thus, the ability for the city department of transportation to provide effective mass transit is nearly impossible, even if the politician were willing to write personal checks to pay for it, which isn't happening. The result is that disadvantaged workers are stuck, limited in the range they can seek employment.
Twenty-five years ago sociologist William Julius Wilson argued in his book The Truly Disadvantaged that the postwar migration of employers out of the city centers left African-Americans bereft of economic opportunities just as the Civil Rights Movement was finally ending overt discrimination. Mr. Wilson added that the prevalence of single mothers was, often cited as a cause for lagging performance in said communities, was an effect of the family structure being undermined by the lack of good jobs. This seems to be the foundation of the findings of the Harvard-Berkeley team. In contemporary times, this argument seems weak because the traditional families among the Caucasian working-class have also been seriously compromised. How come? The hollowing out of the job market and rising inequality are to blame. However, the new research heaps sprawl onto the pile of blame. Not just movement out of the city but also out of reach of the less affluent suburban residents as well.
Before you get the idea that sprawling metropolises outside the Southern and Rust Belt states are the places to be, I'd like to point out my hometown, Los Angeles, is not exactly utopia. We still have a limited mass transit system but upward mobility has adapted. Upward mobility in Los Angeles has a more local flavor to it. Thus it might be a good idea for cities such as Atlanta or Detroit to take a look here and formulate policies that are beneficial to families without cars. Reihan Salam has argued that easing zoning restrictions and building out public transit would allow cities to become less dense and more livable. Not going to happen anytime soon thanks to national NIMBY-ism. So President Thomas Jefferson's utopia vision of a nation of self-sufficient farmers is obsolete. The Industrial Revolution saw the mass migration of people from the rural lands to the cities in search of opportunity. What about Sarah Palin's "Real America?" Or the dire warnings of the Republican Party that high-speed rail lines and bike paths were some fiendishly wasteful spending. Guess what? As it turns out these modern day Cassandras were at odds with the contemporary version of the American Dream. Where does one go to pursue upward mobility? Try the cities.
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