Why small rural towns turn down economic development opportunities

Not every rural small town wants to add a meat processing plant:

Regional economic development officials thought it was the perfect spot for a chicken processing plant that would liven up the 400-person town with 1,100 jobs, more than it had ever seen. When plans leaked out, though, there was no celebration, only furious opposition that culminated in residents packing the fire hall to complain the roads couldn’t handle the truck traffic, the stench from the plant would be unbearable and immigrants and out-of-towners would flood the area, overwhelming schools and changing the town’s character…

The village board unanimously voted against the proposed $300 million plant, and two weeks later, the company said they’d take their plant — and money — elsewhere.

Deep-rooted, rural agricultural communities around the U.S. are seeking economic investments to keep from shedding residents, but those very places face trade-offs that increasing numbers of those who oppose meat processing plants say threaten to burden their way of life and bring in outsiders…

Nickerson fought against Georgia-based Lincoln Premium Poultry, which wanted to process 1.6 million chickens a week for warehouse chain Costco. It was a similar story in Turlock, California, which turned down a hog-processing plant last fall, and Port Arthur, Texas, where residents last week stopped a meat processing plant. There also were complaints this month about a huge hog processing plant planned in Mason City, Iowa, but the project has moved ahead…

The question of who would work the tough jobs was at the forefront of the debate, though many were adamant they aren’t anti-immigrant. Opposition leader Randy Ruppert even announced: “This is not about race. This is not about religion.”

On one hand, not all jobs are necessarily good jobs. On the other hand, there seem to be larger issues at play: who will get these jobs? What happens when all the workers – who may not share the background of the small town – show up? It would be intriguing to explore what changes to the processing plants would lead to support from community members: guarantees of local hires? Higher wages? No minorities hired?

It would also be worth tracking where these processing plants end up. What one community turns down may be seen as an economic savior in another area. For example, scholars have noted the rise of immigrant populations in American rural areas in recent decades including places like Iowa and Georgia which don’t have the traditional immigrant gateway big cities.

Great Quotes in Homeownership #3: Bush in 2002

As the War on Terror was underway, President Bush traveled to Atlanta in June 2002 and promoted homeownership for minorities:

But my attitude is, if somebody can’t find work and they want to work, we’ve got to continue to work on expanding the job base. And part of economic security is owning your own home. (Applause.) Part of being a secure America is to encourage homeownership. So somebody can say, this is my home, welcome to my home.

Now, we’ve got a problem here in America that we have to address. Too many American families, too many minorities do not own a home. There is a home ownership gap in America. The difference between Anglo America and African American and Hispanic home ownership is too big. (Applause.) And we’ve got to focus the attention on this nation to address this.

And it starts with setting a goal. And so by the year 2010, we must increase minority home owners by at least 5.5 million. In order to close the homeownership gap, we’ve got to set a big goal for America, and focus our attention and resources on that goal. (Applause.)…

I want to go back to where I started. I believe out of the evil done to America will come incredible good. I believe that as sure as I’m standing here. I believe we can achieve peace. I believe that we can address hopelessness and despair where hopelessness and despair exist. And listen, I understand that in this great country, there are too many people who say, this American Dream, what does that mean; my eyes are shut to the American Dream, I don’t see the dream. And we’d better make sure, for the good of the country, that the dream is vibrant and alive.

It starts with having great education systems for every single child. (Applause.) It means that we unleash the faith-based programs to help change people’s hearts, which will help change their lives. (Applause.) It means we use the mighty muscle of the federal government in combination with state and local governments to encourage owning your own home. That’s what that means. And it means — it means that each of us, each of us, have a responsibility in the great country to put something greater than ourselves — to promote something greater than ourselves.

These are not unusual sentiments for an American president. Even as danger lurks in the larger world (now the threat of terrorism rather than the threat of communism), American residents need to be able to participate in the American dream. This dream includes at least a few factors including good jobs and schools but is anchored in owning a home. Bush adds to these broad aspirations in this speech by noting that minorities have lower homeownership rates (this is still the case today) and the government and American society should be committed to helping them join white Americans in owning homes.

On one hand, this is a laudable goal that I suspect many would still support today: minorities should be able to buy homes in good neighborhoods. On the other hand, setting such goals is now viewed as helping to contribute to the economic crisis of the late 2000s. President Bush discusses a variety of means to push homeownership – government programs, community associations, faith-based groups – but we know at least part of this was accomplished through subprime and other loans that produced a facade of increasing homeownership without much substance behind it.

For the future, what is a sustainable path that truly gives minorities opportunities to own a home for the long-term? This might require jettisoning the idea that a home should be an economic investment. It may mean more operating outside of the free market to provide good housing.

All whites fleeing minorities bought McMansions?

In an article about the reconcentration of poverty, the journalist includes this description of how white residents responded to more minorities moving to the suburbs:

As newly middle-class minorities moved to inner suburbs, though, the mostly white residents of those suburbs moved further away, buying up the McMansions that were being built at a rapid pace. This acceleration of white flight was especially problematic in Rust Belt towns that didn’t experience the economic boom of the mid-2000s. They were watching manufacturing and jobs move overseas.

The use of McMansions is interesting here. It could be doing three things:

1. It could simply be referring to larger houses. The size of new American homes has increased in recent decades and McMansions are often held up as the exemplar of this.

2. It could be shorthand for suburban sprawl. McMansions are often viewed as emblematic of big lots and expensive houses in whiter communities. Using the phrase McMansion here could reinforce the idea that all wealthy suburbanites live in McMansions.

3. This could be more negative as substituting “large homes” for “McMansions” doesn’t carry the same kind of negative connotations.

And for the data on the number of Americans living in neighborhoods where more than 40% of residents are under the poverty line:

The number of people living in high-poverty areas—defined as census tracts where 40 percent or more of families have income levels below the federal poverty threshold—nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, to 13.8 million from 7.2 million, according to a new analysis of census data by Paul Jargowsky, a public-policy professor at Rutgers University-Camden and a fellow at The Century Foundation. That’s the highest number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods ever recorded.

Not a good trend.

Illinois the first Midwest state to have majority of minority students in public schools

New data shows that Illinois for the first time has a majority of minority students in the state’s public schools:

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.

One way this happens is through immigration. This is a reminder that although certain states are associated with immigration – places like California, Texas, Florida – immigration is closely tied to big cities. Here are some bits from a 2012 Census report looking at foreign-born populations in the 2010 Census:

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.

Claim that Bank of America takes better care of foreclosed properties in white neighborhoods than in minority neighborhoods

A new report from the National Fair Housing Alliance argues Bank of America has taken better care of foreclosed properties in white neighborhoods:

A year ago, the alliance and several of its member organizations filed a complaint against the bank with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, arguing that the bank had violated the federal Fair Housing Act by neglecting foreclosed properties in minority communities in Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Dayton and Washington, D.C. Today, the groups amended their complaint with a stack of evidence – in maps, data, and photos – showing that the problem has persisted in each of those cities, while documenting it anew in Memphis, Denver, Las Vegas, Tucson and Philadelphia.

In total, housing advocates have now identified the problem in 18 metropolitan areas, across 621 Bank of America properties…

The sample size in each city varied, from about a dozen properties to more than 44 of them in Denver. But across all of the cities, homes in minority communities were two times more likely than those in predominantly white areas to have more than 10 maintenance or marketing problems. In Denver, homes in minority neighborhoods were 9.3 times more likely to have a broken door or lock. In Las Vegas, they were 4.5 times more likely to have damaged windows. In Philadelphia, they’re twice as likely to have accumulated substantial amounts of trash, relative to homes in white neighborhoods in the same market.

The pattern suggests yet another way that subtle housing discrimination may further handicap the ability of minority communities to recover from the housing crisis (or, put another way, this suggests why the effects of the recession will linger in minority communities for much longer). Federal fair housing law prohibits actions (or attempts at action) that “perpetuate, or tend to perpetuate, segregated housing patterns,” or that obstruct the choices in a community or neighborhood. It’s not hard to envision how these neglected homes could wind up doing just that.

Bank of America responded that the methodology of the study was flawed and that some of the homes in more disrepair were the responsibility of other entities.

More broadly, this suggests a potential new line of research questions about how banks and financial institutions respond after an economic crisis and whether this is stratified by race and class. How have banks made decisions regarding which foreclosed properties to improve or leave to others? Have they primarily worked with more valuable pieces of property, ones that might be found more often in middle to upper class neighborhoods? Is there also more political pressure (from local homeowners to municipalities) to address these more expensive homes or places with higher property values? It also seems like the analysis here would benefit by looking at the actions of multiple mortgage holders to see if there is a pattern across institutions.

New HUD study shows minorities continue to be shown fewer homes, apartments

A new HUD audit study shows that compared to whites, minorities are given less access to homes and apartments:

Compared with white homebuyers, blacks who inquire about homes listed for sale are made aware of about 17 percent fewer homes and are shown 18 percent fewer ones. Asians are told about 15 percent fewer units and are shown 19 percent fewer properties. Researchers are unsure why Hispanic buyers were treated more equitably than other minority populations.

Among renters, all minority groups found out about fewer choices than did white consumers. Hispanic testers who contacted agents about advertised rental units learned about 12 percent fewer units available and were shown 7 percent fewer than white renters saw. Black renters learned about 11 percent fewer units and saw 4 percent fewer available rentals, while Asians were told about 10 percent fewer available rentals and shown 7 percent fewer units.

In the Chicago area, researchers found that African-American and white renters got equal access to information and showings of apartments, but African-Americans were less likely than white consumers to see at least one home that had no problems.

Blacks also were more likely than whites to be told that a credit check had to be performed and that particular rental units carried fees. They also were quoted higher fees than the ones quoted to white testers. On average, the extra fees quoted to blacks put the first-year cost of securing a rental unit at $350 more than the cost for white renters.

Hispanic testers in Chicago reported that they heard comments about their credit standing more often than the white testers, and the extra payments quoted to them were $131 more than white testers’.

As the HUD Secretary notes, these actions are less obvious than the redlining, blockbusting, and restrictive covenants of the early 1900s but they still lead to similar outcomes. This kind of study with pairs having the same qualifications and traits except for their race/ethnicity has been conducted for several decades with similar results: whites consistently have better access to housing options. Limiting access to housing options like this is illegal but happens regularly both in cities and suburbs. And housing and patterns of residential segregation is related to all sorts of other important life chances including job opportunities, schools, community resources and services, and social networks.

This article fails to mention what can be done about such discriminatory practices. Housing providers and those in real estate can be sued. However, this takes place on a case by case basis and thus it can take a while to crack down on a large number of offenders.

Increasing racial segregation in the American workplace

Two sociologists argue there is evidence that some American workplaces have become more racially segregated in recent decades:

The results of our research found in part that there has been a trend toward racial re-segregation among white men and black men since 2000 and increased segregation since 1970 between black women and white women in American workplaces — so much so that it has eliminated progress made in the late 1960s. This is not simply an academic question, but a fundamental problem with American society. While most of us morally embrace equal opportunity and race and gender equality, we find that America is still a long way from those commitments. Only by confronting our shortcomings as a society can we address them…Distressingly, 19 of the 58 industries we surveyed — nearly one-third of all industries — showed a trend toward racial re-segregation between white men and black men over the last dozen years. Transportation services, motion pictures, construction, securities and commodities brokerages are some of the sectors that reflect this trend. In addition, re-segregation since 1970 between black and white women in workplaces has eliminated progress made in the late 1960s.

Transportation services, railroads, publishing and many low-wage manufacturing industries show increased segregation between black and white women. Unfortunately, increased access to private sector managerial jobs for black men and black women came to a grinding halt more than 30 years ago as well. Meanwhile, black women’s employment segregation from white women has actually grown somewhat, as white women made continued gains into traditionally white male jobs…

Where has there been progress? In general, African Americans tend to do better in workplaces that use formal credentials to make hiring decisions. Minorities and white women have made the most progress in professional jobs. These occupations require specific educational credentials to be considered for employment. African Americans also progress in those relatively rare large, private-sector firms that monitor their managers diversity track record.

It sounds like jobs based on social networks tend to be more segregated while jobs based on credentials allow more opportunities for non-whites. This reminds me of the sociological study Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks Exclude Black Men From Blue-Collar Jobs. Royster found in studying vocational schools that although black and white students were getting similar educations, the instructors and school gave white students more access to the primarily white social networks in the vocational trades while black students were left more to fend for themselves.

 

I would be curious to know how job segregation lines up with residential segregation, one of the more persistent features of American life in the last century. In other words, are workplaces in more diverse areas less segregated?

Since having a good job is tied to income, building wealth, accessing social networks and social capital, and new opportunities, this is important information. Also, this is a reminder fighting segregation is not a linear process.