America has two basic economies, and the division increasingly defines its politics. One, concentrated on the coasts and in college towns, focuses on the business of images, digits and transactions. The other, located largely in the southeast, Texas and the Heartland, makes its living in more traditional industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to fossil fuel development.
In the last years of his life Dr. Martin Luther King expanded his focus from political and civil rights to include economic justice. Noting that the majority of America’s poor were white King decried the already huge gaps between rich and poor, calling for “radical changes in the structure of our society,” including a massive urban jobs program.
“I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer,” said President Obama this week as he claimed new powers for himself in making recess appointments while Congress wasn’t legally in recess. The chief executive’s power grab in naming appointees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board has been depicted by administration supporters as one forced upon a reluctant Obama by Republican intransigence. But this isn’t the first example of the president’s increasing tendency to govern with executive-branch powers.
In an election year, politics dominates the news, but economics continue to shape people’s lives. Looking ahead to 2012 and beyond, it is clear that the United States is essentially made up of many economies, each with distinctly different short- and long-term prospects. We have highlighted the five regions that are most poised to flourish and help boost the national economy.
Along with the oft-pronounced, desperately wished for death of the suburbs, no demographic narrative thrills the mainstream news media more than the decline of the Sun Belt, the country’s southern rim extending from the Carolinas to California. Since the housing bubble collapse in 2007, commentators have heralded “the end of the Sun Belt boom.”
For a generation American manufacturing has been widely seen as a “declining sport.” Yet its demise has been largely overplayed. Despite the many jobs this sector has lost in the past generation, manufacturing remains remarkably resilient, with a global market share similar to that of the 1970s.
To many, America’s industrial heartland may look like a place mired in the economic past—a place that, outcompeted by manufacturing countries around the world, has too little work to offer its residents. But things look very different to Karen Wright, the CEO of Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Wright’s biggest problem isn’t a lack of work; it’s a lack of skilled workers. “We have a very skilled workforce, but they are getting older,” says Wright, who employs 1,200 people at three Ohio factories. “I don’t know where we are going to find replacements.”
Most critics of Barack Obama’s desultory performance the past three years trace it to his supposedly leftist ideology, lack of experience and even his personality quirks. But it would perhaps be more useful to look at the geography — of Chicago and the state of Illinois — that nurtured his career and shaped his approach to politics. Like with George W. Bush and Texas, this is a case where you can’t separate the man from the place.
Wall Street is disdained in the court of public opinion — detested by the tea party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left. The public blames financial plutocrats for America’s economic plight more than either President Barack Obama or former President George W. Bush. Less than a quarter of all Americans, according to Gallup, have confidence in the banks, which vie for the lowest spot with Big Business and Congress.
This past weekend the New York Times devoted two big op-eds to the decline of the suburb. In one, new urban theorist Chris Leinberger said that Americans were increasingly abandoning “fringe suburbs” for dense, transit-oriented urban areas.
During tough economic times, technology is often seen as the one bright spot. In the U.S. this past year technology jobs outpaced the overall rate of new employment nearly four times. But if you’re looking for a tech job, you may want to consider searching outside of Silicon Valley. Though the Valley may still be the big enchilada in terms of venture capital and innovation, it hasn’t consistently generated new tech employment.
The fall of the Soviet Union nearly a quarter of a century ago forced geographers and policy makes to rip up their maps. No longer divided into “west” and “east”, the world order lost many of its longtime certainties.
While many experts are pronouncing the demise of the American era and the rise of China, other East Asian nations complicate the picture. As America continues to participate and extend its influence in the dynamic Asian market, there may be no more suitable ally than its old antagonist, Vietnam.
You can find the future of the world’s women not in Scandinavia or the U.S., but among the entrepreneurs who line the streets of Mumbai, Manila and Sao Paulo. Selling everything from mangoes to home-made blouses, these women, usually considered the very bottom of their home country’s employment barrel, represent the cutting-edge of progress for women in the 21st century.
Over the past decade Los Angeles has steadily declined. It currently has one of the the highest unemployment rates (roughly 12.5%) in the U.S, and there’s little sign of a sustained recovery. The city and county have become a kind of purgatory for all but the most politically connected businesses, while job creation and population growth lag not only the vibrant Texas cities but even aged competitors such as New York.