Only in the Midwest region are close to 50% of the homes sold at $250,000 or under. The Northeast is roughly at 33%, the South is roughly at 26%, and the West is roughly at 6%.
So does this mean there are more starter homes in the Midwest? Not necessarily. Perhaps this is linked to incomes in the region and less household wealth for people to spend on homes. Perhaps the housing stock of the homes is older and the homes need more rehab. Perhaps there is less demand for the homes due to slower population growth.
Still, the differences are stark. Could Midwestern states and communities advertise that they have cheaper housing? (Of course, an influx of residents could push housing prices up as has happened in certain locations throughout the United States.)
Anyone can catch a walleye with a few bucks’ worth of basic gear, some practice and a little luck, Roach said, though that doesn’t stop some Midwesterners from dropping the equivalent of several years’ salary on boats, McMansion-grade ice-fishing trailers and sophisticated electronics designed to better target the finicky fish.
Follow the link for the trailers and you can see large ice-fishing trailers. I assume that is the primary use of McMansion here: these trailers are large. They offer a lot of interior space. Maybe they are mass-produced or architecturally dubious but the size of these trailers is bigger than just a little ice fishing hut.
At the same time, the use of the term suggests that the ice-fishing trailers are over the top or unnecessary or undesirable thing. McMansion is an evocative term that is usually linked to negative judgments.
The lingering question here: is the large McMansion trailer a worse choice than a more modest ice-fishing dwelling?
(This is not the first time McMansions have been linked to transportation. See earlier posts here and here about McMansions and SUVs. Those ice fishing trailer need a sizable vehicle to tow them into place.)
In some ways, Arenson says, St. Louis was at the heart of these questions. Geographically, it was located where North, South and West came together. It had been a slave state, but had not seceded. It was central to many railroad lines. And it was growing at a remarkable place—it would rise from the country’s 24th most populous city in 1840 to the fourth biggest in 1870.
No one was more convinced of the importance of St. Louis than local businessman and booster Logan Uriah Reavis. Reavis was a remarkable man, with a remarkable appearance. He wore a long, messy red beard and walked bent over a cane due to a childhood illness. Born in Illinois in 1831, he failed in his early career as a schoolteacher “when the students ridiculed him ceaselessly,” according to Arenson’s book. In 1866, he arrived in St. Louis intent on starting a newspaper and elevating the image of his adopted hometown.
Reavis wasn’t the first to suggest the city as a new capital for the nation. In 1846, St. Louis newspapers claimed that the move would be necessary to govern a country that grew significantly in size after the end of the Mexican-American War. But Reavis may have been the most outspoken supporter of the cause. He presciently envisioned a United States stretching not just out to California but up to Alaska and down to the Gulf of Mexico. And he saw St. Louis as the obvious place for the government of this mega-United States: “the great vitalizing heart of the Republic.” In contrast, he wrote, Washington was a “distant place on the outskirts of the country, with little power or prestige.”…
In response, between 1867 and 1868, three House representatives from the Midwest proposed resolutions to move the capitol toward the middle of the country. As historian and educational publisher Donald Lankiewicz writes for History Net, the first two of these stalled in the Ways and Means committee. But a third, introduced by Wisconsin Representative Herbert Paine in February 1868, came to a vote on the floor. Eastern congressmen saw the proposal to move the seat of government to somewhere in the “Valley of the Mississippi” as a joke. But it shocked them with the amount of support it received, ultimately failing by a vote of just 77 to 97.
This story sounds very American: local boosters combined with an expanding frontier and disorder after the Civil War to produce a vision for a new capital in a booming city. Even though this did not come to fruition, it sounds like there was a short window in which is could have happened. And then what would have happened to Washington, D.C., one of the most important cities today?
I also cannot help but contrast this to the fate of St. Louis after this era. I recently showed my urban sociology class the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. This documentary puts the infamous public housing project in the context of a city that peaked in population in 1950, lost residents in white flight, and is racially segregated. Add this to the competition with Chicago for the center of the Midwest and St. Louis might be a great story of a city that did not live up to its lofty dreams.
Home prices and incomes vary widely, and there are oases of affordability, mainly in the Rust Belt and Midwest. The top five most affordable places among metro areas with population of 500,000 or more:
Lansing, Michigan: As a result of modest home prices, 90.6 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the fall months were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $79,100. The median home price was $155,000 in the fourth quarter of 2021, the builders’ index says.
Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazleton, Pennsylvania: Wages here are below national levels, but so are home prices — the median sale price was $150,000 in the fourth quarter. As a result of rock-bottom prices, 88.5 percent of all new and existing homes sold in October, November and December of 2021 were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $70,600.
Pittsburgh: This metro area has a median family income of $84,800 and a median home price of just $166,000. As a result, 88.4 percent of homes were affordable for typical earners.
Indianapolis. This metro area has a median family income of $81,600 and a median home price of $215,000. As a result, 87.6 percent of homes were affordable for typical earners.
Akron, Ohio: With a median family income of $83,300 and a median home price of $165,000, fully 86.5 percent of homes were in reach of median-income families in the state capital.
Two features quickly stand out: the homes in these regions really are cheap (particularly when compared to local earnings) and they are all in the Midwest/Rust Belt.
Still, I have seen some version of this list many times now and I am not sure what to make of them. Why aren’t people moving to these locations?
The most obvious answers to me: it is not necessarily easy to move and these cities are perceived to have a lack of opportunities (economic, cultural, housing, etc.). American geographic mobility as a whole is down but do people actually move just for cheaper housing? What this list does is highlights that median income families can access median level housing in these five places. Get a decent job and owning a house is possible.
There are other possible answers that get more complicated:
People just do not think of the Midwest/Rust Belt when thinking of places to live. Lack of opportunities, the weather, the middle of the country, a Midwestern blah-ness, etc.
In sum: some American metropolitan areas are much cheaper than others, they have common characteristics, and there are a number of compelling reasons why people do not move to the places with cheaper housing.
Decatur, in central Illinois about 40 miles east of Springfield, has lost 7.1% of its population since the 2010 census, according to the recently released 2019 population estimates. That drop is the third-largest percentage loss in the U.S. among cities with a population of 50,000 or more. Rockford comes in at No. 15 on that list. The northern Illinois city, the fifth-largest in the state with an estimated 145,609 residents, has lost 5% of its population during that nine-year period.
Rockford’s total population loss of 7,676 people over the last decade places it ninth nationwide among large cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with Decatur (-5,385) at No. 15. Four of the five cities that have lost the most people since the last census are in the Midwest. Detroit has lost the most people, about 43,000, since 2010, followed by Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio…
“I think those cities are very susceptible to having populations hurt by the new service economy or the new postindustrial economy, and that’s because they have such a historical reliance, and a current reliance, on manufacturing and heavy-duty industry,” Wilson said. “And for those city economies that have not diversified, they really get hurt, they get pummeled. And what does that mean to get pummeled? People have a very difficult time living there and earning a living wage. They simply can’t make ends meet. And they become primed for thinking about leaving and trying to find something better.”…
“It’s going to create a further divide between the haves and the have-nots in places like Joliet, Aurora, Rockford,” Wilson said. “And people are going to want to leave.”
2. This reminds me of Jennifer Egan’s book Look at Me where one of the main characters dreams of restoring Rockford to flourishing and growth. Yet, it is hard to imagine cities like Rockford or Decatur recapturing their past glory or entering a significant revival.
3. The narrative around population loss in Chicago often revolves around problems specific to Chicago. But, this article hints that it is a state-wide issue or a regional issue. If true, this would require a more coordinated effort across communities and groups that sometimes spend more time sniping at each other than working together (for example, feuds Illinois has with Indiana and Wisconsin rather than regional cooperation).
“Using OpenStreetMap (OSM) data, I was able to see how bendy or straight the roads are all over the world. One theory I had was that Europe, where current roads are based on older roads that predate cars, would have more bends and curves than the USA, where current roads were (in many places) only put in in the last 150 ? 100 years, and probably put in directly and dead straight.
“The Mid-west USA and Canadian prairies have the most straight roads. Nearly all of the roads there are straight. This broadly matches my theory.”
For anyone questioning McCann’s methods, rest assured he used an actual “bendyness ratio” defined as the “length of the road divided by the straight line difference between [its] end points.” He didn’t think to abbreviate this ratio with a mathematical symbol, but I would suggest ||/?.
The project, which McCann launched some time ago but is now featured at Maps Mania, has its shortcomings. One is potentially incomplete road data in OpenStreetMap, another a technical issue with split “ways” that McCann delves into on his site. Still, it appears to paint an accurate picture of the Midwest, land of unbending, endless-feeling roads (red-orange areas mark hotbeds of straightness):
A lot of this is due to the fact that it is possible to have straight roads on flat land. Yet, these straight roads may be helpful in other ways. Back in graduate school, I wrote a paper about cognition in cities and some have argued that having a grid system – often aided by having flat land (see San Francisco for an interesting application of a grid on numerous hills) – is helpful for navigation (it is easy to tell directions) and better for traffic (multiple options in a grid rather than having some roads that are used more heavily). Think the Manhattan grid. Having this grid may even allow city dwellers to use the landscape as extended cognition where they don’t have to cram so much into their brains because they can offload information onto the grid. In contrast, I was recently in the western Philadelphia suburbs where the roads tend to follow the topography. It took me a number of visits before I knew which roads went where as they tend to twist and turn in ways that make sense. Of course, the Midwest roads may not be as scenic as those dipping and turning around hills, forests, water features and other natural phenomena. Some of the early wealthy suburbs like Riverside, Illinois intentionally had such curved roads on the flat landscape in order to highlight the landscape. Such curved roads in neighborhoods can also slow down drivers who have to be a bit more wary.
Whites fell to 49.76 percent of the student body this school year, the new data show, a demographic tipping point that came after years of sliding white enrollment and a rise in Latino, Asian and multiracial students.
The black student population also has declined, but it still makes up almost 18 percent of the state’s public school students…
If those numbers hold, Illinois would be one of a dozen states — and the first in the Midwest — to have a school system in which minority students are in the majority, according to the most recent federal education data. Included in that category are Western and Southern states with large Latino or black populations, as well as the District of Columbia, according to the National Center for Education Statistics…
Illinois’ diverse student population doesn’t match the diversity of its teaching staff. Based on 2012 state data, 83 percent of Illinois’ public school teachers are white.
This is a relatively common thing in the United States today though it is unusual for it to happen to a Midwestern state. Relative to whites, minority populations in the United States have been growing.
While the foreign born resided in every state in 2010, over half lived in just four states: California, New York, Texas, and Florida. Over one-fourth of the total foreign-born population lived in California…
In 14 states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of foreign born was equal to or greater than the national average of 13 percent. With the exception of Texas, Florida, and Illinois, these states were primarily in the western and northeastern parts of the country.
With the exception of Illinois (14 percent), the percentage of foreign born in all states of the Midwest region was below 8 percent, including North Dakota and South Dakota, each with about 3 percent.
The Chicago region draws a large amount of immigrants and drew a large number of black migrants during the early 1900s in the Great Migration. Without the draw of jobs and opportunities in Chicago, the demographics of Illinois children today might look much more like Iowa or Wisconsin.
Pew published last year a report on interracial marriage in America and here are some of the findings:
The Pew Research Center study released last year, using 2010 data, is the most recent major look at interracial relationships. It found that among new marriages in 2010, Asians were the group most likely to intermarry, at 27.7 percent. Hispanics were next at 25.7 percent, then blacks at 17.1 percent and whites at 9.4 percent. For the Pew study, marriages between two people who are mixed-race weren’t considered interracial…
The prevalence of interracial relationships varies widely by region. Census data show that in 2008-2010, the Midwest had the fewest mixed-race newlyweds with 11 percent. The Northeast region was next with 13 percent and the South had 14 percent, boosted by the high numbers of blacks in states like Virginia and North Carolina who marry outside their race.
At 22 percent, the West had the most interracial newlyweds, with the majority involving an Asian, Hispanic or Native American. Hawaii was by far the state with the most mixed-race couples, followed by Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska and California. Illinois ranked 29th among the states.
Interesting findings. This is a shift in American life – just 50 years ago this would have been quite rare. But, there are still big differences between whites and others.
Why does the Midwest have the lowest percentage of interracial marriages? Two quick ideas. One, the region might be the most white as the Census Midwest region stretches from Ohio to the northern Great Plains. Second, large cities in the Midwest tend to score quite high on residential segregation (as does the Northeast), suggesting people of different races don’t live in the same places. If marriage and dating is partly about who one is exposed to, living in more racially homogeneous areas could limit the pool.
That’s the question design and planning firm Sasaki Associates is asking visitors to its new exhibit, “Reinvention in the Urban Midwest,” which opens at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) Space this week. The project includes an interactive survey that contains a timeless challenge: Draw the geographic boundaries of what counts as the U.S. Midwest…
Judging by the maps drawn by others and myself, it appears Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma are the states of most contention. I personally felt I had no choice but to cut some of them in half. Perhaps the correct answer is still the textbook answer: the states of most intensified yellow (at least as identified by those who’ve lived in the Midwest the longest) make up the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin to the east, plus Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota to the west. (As a commenter pointed out, cartographer and historian Bill Rankin has also done a Midwest mapping project, in which he overlaid 100 different maps of the Midwest and made the confounding observation that “no area that was included on every single map”.)
So the geographic boundaries of what most Americans consider the Midwest aren’t exactly clear, but Sasaki has also included another set of maps that reveal a much less murky truth: the Midwest has urbanized in a vastly different way from the rest of the United States. The graphic below maps out the population densities found in urban areas from four U.S. regions in 2010 (a darker shade signifies a larger, denser population)…
The Midwest is characterized by small but strong urban centers that transition sharply to rural surroundings. This pattern has of course grown from the region’s historical focus on agricultural land use. Sasaki’s recent work in Iowa suggests a continued population decline in rural areas but growing population density in more urban areas. However, the growth of urban areas in the Midwest is not uniform. The firm has further identified that agricultural cities in the plains sub-region, such as Des Moines, Iowa, or Lincoln, Nebraska, are indeed growing due to factors like de-ruralization and in-migration to city centers, while traditionally heavy-industry cities in the forest sub-region, such as Milwaukee or St. Louis, are still losing population.
One takeaway: the Midwest is a fuzzily-defined entity that perhaps has more to do with perceptions and culture than it does with exact geography. This would be aided by then asking people who drew the maps to then type in words they associate with the Midwest. I like the contrasting maps between those who have spent more of their lives in the Midwest versus those who have not: there are some clear differences.
The connection between farmland and cities is a good catch. Big cities like Chicago or Omaha were (and still are) intimately connected to agricultural commodities that needed to be distributed and sold through the big cities. For example, if you look at the early railroad construction in the Chicago region, much of it was linked to shipping products from the plains, everything from wheat (southwestern Wisconsin) to lead (Galena) to then distribute further east. Or look at the trading of commodities in places like Chicago and the creation of new kinds of markets. Even though there are big gaps between the Chicago area and the rest of Illinois – they operate as very different worlds – both would strongly consider themselves part of the same region, even if they can’t speak to the deeper ties that connect them.
It’s not a point that’s often made about Superman, who is celebrating his 75th anniversary this summer and starring in director Zack Snyder’s quite Midwestern movie, “Man of Steel,” opening Friday. What with all his universe saving, the intergalactic lineage and the part-time big-city address, the fact that Clark Kent grew up on a Kansas farm has never been the sexiest part of the legend. And yet, for better or worse, his Midwestern-ness is the key to coming to grips with what has for decades been alternately one of the most durable and tedious of cultural icons, a symbol of American can-do albeit delivered with an insistent piety…
Superman is the embodiment of Midwestern character — the well-meaning, the sturdy, the pious and the provincial. In “Man of Steel,” when young Clark realizes he can hear literally everyone on Earth, he runs into a broom closet (a scene shot in Plano’s Centennial Elementary School, in far west Kendall County), presses his hands against his ears and refuses to leave, moaning “The world’s too big.” The response from Ma Kent (Diane Lane) sounds distinctly Midwestern: “Then make it small.”…
Without giving anything away (I swear, there are no spoilers here): “Man of Steel” tells the story of a guy who comes from a place where fracking (or at least the Kryptonian equivalent) creates earthquakes. He settles in a town where expanses are flat, and barns and windmills and water towers stand tall, breaking up the rows of corn. He gets into fights at the IHOP and is reminded by his parents he is better and more upstanding than everyone else but shouldn’t flaunt it — stay modest. He watches college football, wears a Kansas City Royals T-shirt, tends to keep his feelings bottled up. He’s hard to read but turns deeply moralistic, stoic and judgmental, willing to go out of his way to help anyone but eventually siding with the authorities. He heads off for the big city and gets beaten down by hipster jerks who wear a lot of black. But finally he decides that though people outside of the Midwest can’t be trusted, he will be nice to all of them…
Some of the best Superman comic book tales of the past few decades have had an air of repressed heartland stoicism (Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”) or focused on Superman trying to retain a tight, manageable community (Brian Azzarello’s “For Tomorrow”). But in its Midwestern iconography, self-proclaimed American values and locations, none comes close to Snyder’s “Man of Steel.” For instance, Metropolis, usually a substitute for New York City (partly because Superman films tend to shoot there), is more distinctly a Midwestern metropolis now, partly because it’s Chicago you’re looking at.
Fascinating. The virtuous Midwest strikes again. This could lead to a very interesting discussion of how cities become associated with superheroes. New York is the clear leader in the United States with heroes like Batman (operating in Gotham, a thinly disguised NYC) and Spider-Man (born in Queens). But, why aren’t there well-known superheroes in Chicago or Los Angeles? Is there some sort of economic sociology explanation where the comic book industry was centered in New York and they wrote about what they knew and for the biggest market? Does it have to do with the relative status of New York City as the leading global city and symbol of the free world? Do other cities not quite have the combination of glamor and grittiness of New York City? The connections between spaces and the social relationships within and modern myths, superheroes or sci-fi or post-apocalyptic scenarios or otherwise, could be worth exploring.