Putting a price tag on Chicago’s segregation

A new report from the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Urban Institute suggests Chicago pays a high price for segregation:

The seven-county area’s murder rate could be cut by 30 percent, its economy could churn out an additional $8 billion in goods and services and its African-American residents could earn another $3,000 a year if it could reduce racial and economic segregation to the median level for the nation’s largest metro areas.

And 83,000 more residents could have earned bachelor’s degrees, spurring another $90 billion in collective lifetime earnings…

While the seven-county region has seen a slow reduction in racial and economic segregation between 1990 and 2010, it remained fifth-worst among the nation’s 100 most populous metro areas in 2010, the most recent full census year, the study found. The region includes Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties.

While segregation might benefit some – typically those who already have power and resources – this study suggests it harms the whole. Viewing issues of race, class, and gender might come down to these different perspectives of society: is it a zero-sum game where someone must lose for others to get ahead or can the pie be made bigger for everyone to share from? Take, for example, a period of history that is often held up as a good one for the entire country. The decades following World War II involved economic growth for most Americans as well as social change (Civil Rights, addressing poverty in cities and rural areas, the Great Society, etc.). We can’t recreate that period – it was contingent on a variety of other factors including winning World War II (and decimated economies elsewhere in the world) and the pent-up demand for many things after both a major war and the biggest global depression – but we could aim for policies that would help many people at all.

A college degree leads to more geographic mobility

Americans with a college degree are more likely to leave where they grew up and end up in metropolitan regions:

Today, people with a college degree are more likely than they used to be to move to metropolitan regions with good jobs and other people like them, and this means both that those regions do better over time and that the return on that education is even greater. Almost half of college graduates move out of their birth states by age 30, according to Moretti. Only 27 percent of high school graduates do. As booming cities draw in new college-educated workers, employers seeking these workers follow, and cities continue to gain strength like magnets. This improves the prospects of everyone in the region, including those without college degrees. The working-class strongholds that once prospered without college-educated workers, on the other hand, are doing worse and worse, as computers and robots replace the workers whose jobs haven’t been sent overseas, and, as a result, an oversupply of labor brings down wages for everyone still there.

It’s not just that a college degree leads to higher earnings or more opportunities; it is also that people with college degrees tend to cluster in certain locations. Even in a world where technology could theoretically allow workers to be far away from their workplaces, the clustering in desirable cities of employers, cultural scenes, and places to live with a high quality of life is linked to education levels.

Another side effect of this clustering is that cities tend to have diverse and vibrant economies while smaller communities simply can’t access multiple options. Thus, even if a smaller community has a single thriving industry, this may not work well:

Focusing on one type of industry could be a successful strategy; Warsaw, Indiana, a relatively small town in the northern part of the state, is the orthopedic capital of America, with dozens of orthopedic device companies small and large located there and a bustling economy as a result. Elkhart, Indiana is the epicenter of the recreational vehicle industry, and manufacturers and suppliers are located there, creating good jobs when the economy is doing well. Cities and towns may be able to convince a cluster of a certain type of companies to locate there, and reverse their decline. “Every place has to look at its comparative advantage, and find a niche,” Ross DeVol, the chief research officer at the Milken Institute, told me.

Having lived near Elkhart during the financial crisis, such a strategy can look good in boom times but be disastrous in down times.

Looking toward the future, are there any particular industries or sectors that would be willing to spread out geographically in order to build stronger American communities? This might limit their profits or make it difficult to attract certain employees but could it be worthwhile to invest in smaller communities in the long run (either for the communities or also for a competitive advantage)? Even sectors like health care are finding it difficult to maintain facilities in small towns because of the advantages that consolidation and economies of scale offer.

Are we already to the point where people live in rural areas because (1) they are “stuck” there or (2) because they are already well-off and have the resources or option to live there?

What if churches considered geographic disparities and their local context?

An interview in the latest print issue of Christianity Today could provide insights for a lot of religious congregations: here is part of the lesson regarding geographic inequalities.

For me, geography is never passive. Why does a new freeway cut through a certain neighborhood? Who lives near that freeway, and why? Those are not just decisions of urban planners or politicians. There are a million little decisions that go into that process—public and private.

It’s impossible to live in a place, or move to a new one, without getting tangled up in the history of its particular structures—who they benefit and who they exclude. That’s a hard reality, because most of us didn’t pave the streets we live on. Yet someone designed those places, and that design will either encourage the flourishing of society or lead to patterns of exclusion…

So many churches, frankly, just don’t know their communities at all. Two or three days a week, a whole bunch of cars come in and then go somewhere else—and that’s the only relationship a church might have with its surrounding neighborhood. That’s more of a suburban reality, but it’s increasingly true of cities as well. The first step, for churches, is just asking, Who’s here? Who are the immediate neighbors that we serve? What populations are underserved? If churches begin to have that conversation more often, then they can look to their congregations and say, “Are we representing the people in this community, and why or why not?”…

The next step is asking, “How can our congregation use its resources—whether that’s a building, a program, or a professional with certain skills—for the sake of others?” Church buildings, for example, are notorious for inefficient usage. They’re filled up a couple times each week, but otherwise the heat is off and they’re just vacant. What a gift it would be for churches to think of their physical structures as resources not just for themselves but also for their surrounding communities. Especially in dense, gentrifying urban areas, where space is really at a premium.

Some related thoughts, many based on findings from the sociology of religion:

  1. A lot of religious congregations seem more interested in internal homophily – being with like people during church activities – rather than turning their attention to their actual neighbors.
  2. Many congregations do little in terms of local outreach – see Congregations in America and the ongoing data of the National Congregations Study. It is not as if they are doing misinformed outreach; little is being done in the first place so getting churches to care about their local community may be harder than it looks.
  3. I agree that urban design can certainly contribute to flourishing or exclusion but it is not necessarily a guarantee of either. Take the highway example given here (and famously illustrated by the Dan Ryan Expressway on the South Side of Chicago): it reinforced existing boundaries.
  4. Why can’t religious groups construct and maintain “cosmopolitan canopies” rather than leaving it to private commercial interests or the efforts of local governments?
  5. I assume there are some differences today in how different religious traditions and denominations approach the local community. This was certainly true in the past where Catholic churches did not disappear when the parishioners moved to the suburbs but rather transitioned to the newest waves of immigrants. Today, who takes their local context into account more and what could they teach others?

The clustering of wealthy counties in the United States

With recently released data, the Census Bureau describes the patterns in the wealthiest counties in the United States:

A Census Bureau report on the “highlights” of the data released yesterday noted that the nation’s wealthiest counties are disproportionately in the corridor of territory that runs from Virginia and Maryland and then north along the East Coast.

“Seventy-seven counties had a median household income within the highest range ($81,129 to $125,900),” said the “highlights” report. “Forty-two of these high-income counties were located in the Northeast region, Maryland and Virginia.”…

Nationwide, the median household income in 2015 was $55,755, according to the Census Bureau. That means the local median household income in each of the nation’s three richest counties—all of which are Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia—are more than twice the national median household income.

Of the Top 20 richest counties in the nation, nine are suburbs of the city that serves as the seat of a federal government

It then wouldn’t be too hard to look for patterns in other demographic data across these wealthier counties. One marker – noted in this article – is that many of these wealthier counties are suburban. But, I’m guessing these counties are also well educated and largely white.

It would also be interesting to see how those concerned with inequality would deal with county level data. Many American counties don’t have a lot of control compared to municipalities or states. There can be a lot of variation within counties, both really wealthy and really poor pockets. Usually, recommendations about poverty or affordable housing are made at a municipal or regional level. Is there a way to leverage counties to address particular issues?

Local note: it appears that three Chicago area counties – Lake, DuPage, and Kendall – fit into the highest range in the data. See page 3 of the Census highlights.

Sociology prof behind San Jose measure to raise business taxes

Sociologist Scott Myers-Lipton has worked to raise business taxes in San Jose:

With little discussion, the council unanimously approved putting a November ballot measure before city residents that would double annual business tax revenue from $12.7 million to $25.4 million. But the business tax voters will decide differs significantly from what Scott Myers-Lipton, the San Jose State University sociology professor who had led a successful 2012 campaign to raise the minimum wage in the city, had proposed last year.

Myers-Lipton was close to gathering enough signatures to qualify his measure for the ballot, but withdrew it to allow for the city compromise measure.

The measure the council approved for the ballot would increase the annual “base rate” businesses pay by $45 and then charge companies with three or more employees $30 to $60 for each worker, depending on the company’s size, capping at $150,000 a year. It would include inflation adjustments. The city’s current tax is $18 per employee for companies with eight or more workers without inflation increases and caps at $25,000.

Myers-Lipton’s proposed measure would have charged large companies based on their gross receipts, either 60 cents, 90 cents or $1.20 for every $1,000 in revenue. The model, he argued, has been successful in other large cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. A city study estimated the change would put an extra $39 million annually into the city’s pocket for services like public safety, roads and libraries.

It sounds like a typical political conversation about taxes. On one side, proponents argue that businesses should pay more, particularly when needed local services are on the line. On the other hand, proponents suggest businesses will leave and/or not locate in San Jose and instead locate in places with cheaper taxes.

Yet, does it make any difference that this tax proposal was brought forward by a sociologist? Conversations about public sociology sometimes suggest that sociologists have limited ability to bring about policy change. This would seem to be a positive example: sociologist who helped bring about a raise in the minimum wage now has a chance to help pass an increased tax on businesses. Both measures could be viewed as moves toward lessening inequality; this is a cause that many sociologists would support. At the same time, do Myers-Lipton’s moves differ much from typical liberal proposals?

Perhaps many businesses in San Jose can afford such an increase with the wealth in the area. Such a tax may not hurt very much in a thriving area compared to a struggling Rust Belt city.

Building a new subway in a big city is difficult, Rio edition

A new subway line in Rio illustrates the issues of constructing subway lines in large cities:

Though it was barely completed in time for the opening ceremonies on August 5, the fact that Line 4 opened this year, let alone this decade, is undeniably because of the Olympics. The state government, which funded the $3.1-billion line, argues that the subway will vastly improve transportation options in the city. The state department of transportation said in an emailed statement that Line 4 will “provide locals and visitors a transportation alternative that’s fast, modern, efficient and sustainable.”

But many outside the government worry that Line 4 was built to primarily serve the Olympics and the upscale real estate developments that are planned in the event’s wake. Critics say Line 4 prioritizes access to the main event venues and wealthy neighborhoods, and disregards the transportation needs of the rest of the city. “This is to serve only the higher classes,” says Lucia Capanema Alvares, an urban planning professor at the Federal Fluminense University. “It’s not to serve the people.”…

This linear design leaves much of the area inside the arc—and the millions of people who live there and in the hinterlands beyond—with little access to rapid transit.

While there are likely unique issues at play in Rio, I suspect these issues would be present in any major city that undertook new subway construction:

  1. Huge costs. Building under a major city is expensive and costs often go beyond budget. The best way to fight this is to have foresight and build such lines sooner rather than later.
  2. Disruption. Again, a large city has all sorts of systems already in place and construction on this scale can take a long time.
  3. Charges of inequality. Who should mass transit serve? Do many major cities primarily have subway and rail service to wealthier areas? (And are these areas better off because they have had mass transit access?) And, why does it take so long to provide service for people who need it?

Such large infrastructure projects are not for the faint of heart but if done well could provide benefits for decades.

Middle class declines in the majority of US metropolitan areas

A new study from Pew shows that the middle class did not do well in many metro areas between 2000 and 2014:

The report by Pew Research Center found that the share of the middle class fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined from 2000 to 2014, including major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which saw a relatively sharp drop in its middle class.

For many areas, a big culprit in the declining middle was the falloff in manufacturing jobs during that 14-year period, when factories shed about 5 million workers from their payrolls nationally…

The news was not all downcast, especially for metro areas in coastal and border regions that have benefited from the boom in technology, trade and resources…

Among the 229 metro areas, which constitute about 76% of the U.S. population in 2014, there were slightly more areas that saw a bigger increase in the share of upper-income population than lower-income adults. Still, Pew’s Kochhar did not view that as a big win for the American economy. The median incomes of the lower, middle and upper tiers all shrank between 2000 and 2014, he said.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. The continued effect of losing manufacturing jobs cannot be overstated: this has hurt numerous cities for decades. It is not easy for any large city to transition from such jobs to opportunities in new sectors.
  2. Looking at this data at the level of a metropolitan region is helpful because it hints at broad patterns within regions that are often segregated by social class and race. The phenomenon of the rich and poor living right next to each other as well as trendy and wealthy communities getting a lot of attention is not exclusive to cities; similar patterns can be found in suburban areas.
  3. Connected to the second point is that solutions to income issues could come at the level of the entire region rather than within individual communities. How might entire regions help the middle class? Why don’t more large cities and surrounding suburbs work together on these issues? (I know why they don’t but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t benefit many local residents.)