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In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.
Last week’s conviction of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on 20 charges of bribery and fraud marks the end of a tumultuous era in the city’s history, and perhaps also the beginning of a new era in American urban politics. Perhaps most remarkable was the almost total lack of protest in New Orleans over the downfall of Nagin, who had relied heavily on polarizing racial politics in his last five years in office.
This is the executive summary from a new report Sustaining Prosperity: A Long Term Vision for the New Orleans Region, authored by Joel Kotkin for Greater New Orleans, Inc. Download the full report from GNO, Inc. here: gnoinc.org/sustainingprosperity
The recovery of greater New Orleans represents one of the great urban achievements of our era. After decades of slow economic, political and social decline, hurricane Katrina seemed a kind of coup de grâce, smothering the last embers of the region’s vitality.
Back in the 1960s, and for well into the 1980s, California stood at the cutting edge of youth culture, the place where trends started and young people clustered. “The California teen, a white, middle-class version of the American dream” raised in a world of “suburbs, cars, and beaches,” notes historian Kirse Granat May, literally shaped the national image of youth, from the Beach Boys and Barbie to Gidget.
The stock market is high, real estate prices have resurged, even the unemployment rate is dropping, yet Americans still feel pretty down about the future. A survey released in January by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research had 54 percent of respondents expecting American life to go downhill over the coming decades. In a December survey, 23 percent of respondents said things will improve over time.
President Obama’s most-recent pivot toward the issue of “inequality” and saving the middle class might be seen as something of an attempt to change the subject after the health care reform disaster. As the Washington Post’s reliably liberal Greg Sargent explains, this latest bit of foot work back to the “old standby” issues provides “a template for the upcoming elections, one that allows Dems to shift from the grinding war of attrition over Obamacare that Republicans want to the bigger economic themes Dems believe give them the upper hand.”
The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield (nee Jacob Cohen), whose signature complaint was that he “can't get no respect,” would have fit right in, in the Inland Empire. The vast expanse east of greater Los Angeles has long been castigated as a sprawling, environmental trash heap by planners and pundits, and its largely blue-collar denizens denigrated by some coast-dwellers, including in Orange County, who fret about “909s” – a reference to the IE's area code – crowding their beaches.
At this time of year, with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, there's a tendency to look back at our lives and those of our families. We should be thankful for the blessings of living in an America where small dreams could be fulfilled.
For many, this promise has been epitomized by owning a house, with a touch of green in the back and a taste of private paradise. Those most grateful for this opportunity were my mother's generation, which grew up in the Great Depression. In her life, she was able to make the move from the tenements of Brownsville, Brooklyn, first to the garden apartments of Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, and, eventually, to a mass-produced suburban house on Long Island.
Barrels of ink and money have been devoted to predictions of where Americans will migrate, particularly younger ones. If you listen to big developer front groups such as the Urban Land Institute or pundits like Richard Florida, you would believe that smart companies that want to improve their chances of cadging skilled workers should head to such places as downtown Chicago, Manhattan and San Francisco, leaving their suburban office parks deserted like relics of a bygone era.
One supposed trend, much celebrated in the media, is that younger people are moving back to the city, and plan to stay there for the rest of their lives. Retirees are reportedly following suit.
Urban theorists such as Peter Katz have maintained that millennials (the generation born after 1983) show little interest in “returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years.” Manhattanite Leigh Gallagher, author of the dismally predictable book The Death of Suburbs, asserts with certitude that “millennials hate the suburbs” and prefer more eco-friendly, singleton-dominated urban environments.
China's recent decision to reverse – at least in part – its policy limiting most couples to one child marks a watershed in thinking about demographics. Yet, this reversal of the 30-year policy may prove unavailing due to reasons – notably dense urbanization and high property prices – that work against people having more children.
China already faces a demographic crisis unprecedented for a still-poor country. By 2050, China will have 60 million fewer people under 15 years of age, while the over-65 population grows by 190 million, approximately the population of Pakistan, the world's sixth-most populous country. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that China's population will peak in 2026, and then will age faster than any country besides Japan; most of the world's decline in children and workers ages 15-19 over the next two decades will take place in China.
The imminent departure of New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and his replacement by leftist Bill DeBlasio, represents an urban uprising against the Bloombergian “luxury city” and the growing income inequality it represents. Bloomberg epitomized an approach that sought to cater to the rich—most prominently Wall Street—as a means to both finance development growth and collect enough shekels to pay for services needed by the poor.
Obamacare's first set of victims was predictable: the self-employed and owners of small businesses. Since the bungled launch of the health insurance enrollment system, hundreds of thousands of self-insured people have either had their policies revoked or may find themselves in that situation in the coming months.
In his classic 1893 essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” historian Frederick Jackson Turner spoke of “the expansive character of American life.” Even though the frontier was closing, Turner argued, the fundamental nature of Americans was still defined by their incessant probing for “a new field of opportunity.” Turner’s claim held true for at least a century—during that time, the American spirit generated relentless technological improvement, the gradual creation of a mass middle class, and the integration of ever more diverse immigrants into the national narrative.
Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that “empty nesters” are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living. This meme has been most recently celebrated in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Both stories, citing research by the real estate brokerage Redfin, maintained that over the last decade a net 1 million boomers (born born between 1945 and 1964) have moved into the city core from the surrounding area. “Aging boomers,” the Post gushed, now “opt for the city life.” It’s enough to warm the cockles of a downtown real-estate speculator’s heart, and perhaps nudge some subsidies from city officials anxious to secure their downtown dreams.