Irony of getting away from society: resources are needed

An interesting article about intentional communities includes this insight into why they might not be available to everyone:

And perhaps these communities are not as immune from worldly flaws as they might like. For example: Many of them struggle to be accessible to people other than middle-class white folks. Sky Blue, a Twin Oaks resident who also serves as the executive director of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, said there are “a lot of racial [problems] and racism that are embedded in intentional communities.” Even despite good intentions, “Liberal white people who have a desire for diversity don’t necessarily understand what it means to be inclusive,” he said. “They’re going to create culture in [their] intentional community that is going to be comfortable for them, which isn’t necessarily comfortable for people of color, or people with disabilities, or people who are gay or trans.” Ethan Tupelo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who lived at Twin Oaks before he began studying intentional communities academically, said residents talked about this issue a lot when he was there. “It’s a bunch of white people sitting around wondering where all the people of color are,” he said. “It’s nice that you’re thinking about that, but it’s also frustrating.”

Tupelo sees a structural explanation for the inaccessibility of intentional communities: It takes a lot of cash to get off the grid. “Even when starting a new community, you need the capital to do it in the first place if you want it to be a legally recognized thing, as opposed to squats,” he said. As Nicolas and Rachel Sarah’s experience at the Downstream Project shows, becoming untangled from capitalism also means becoming much more vulnerable. It’s tough to imagine a comprehensive way of replacing health insurance, not to mention programs like welfare, in a world without government.

To truly get away from big government, big society, and capitalism, it really helps to be pretty well off. This is one of the disadvantages of being powerless: you are at the mercy of others rather than having options.

This reminds me of some of the attention I see given to tiny houses: it seems like many of those interested are not working-class people struggling to get by who need affordable housing but rather educated white people who want to minimize some distractions in life and focus on what they really want to do (pay attention to family, travel, etc.). Or, those interested in minimalism: they appear to be middle and upper-class people who are seeking a new way of living because of unhappiness with the “typical” American/Western consumeristic lifestyle.

How about a foundation starts giving away money and resources to those who don’t have their own means to form intentional communities?

A McMansion as shorthand for the white, suburban privilege of Brock Turner

One blogger connects the case of Brock Turner to the suburban house to which he returned:

I googled the address. I don’t know why I did that– morbid curiosity always gets the better of me. I clicked the satellite image and squinted at the blurry photo of a roof. It’s just an ordinary upper-class McMansion, one of many, on a spastic squiggle of a street in the middle of a wealthy suburban development. The kind of place where people can have every luxury they want, unless what they want isn’t kitsch. True luxury that isn’t kitsch is reserved for the richer still, the astonishingly wealthy whose sons would not go to trial at all for rape– not for the Suburban-McMansion Rich whose sons serve three months if the press is bad enough.

A suburban McMansion fits the story a number of people have told regarding Turner’s actions and subsequent treatment by the criminal justice system. McMansion owners are typically white suburban people with money – not really rich, as this post suggests, but rich enough to expect others to be impressed with their standing (and home). In this narrative, the McMansion signals their posture to the world: we aren’t bad people and should be treated with respect.

It is tempting to link a house to a narrative in this way. On the other hand, what if Turner had returned to a more modest 1950s suburban ranch? Would we then see a connection to white conformity? Or, how about a early 20th century suburban bungalow that hints at the fastidious nature of whites who want to preserve some golden era? Or, would a pricey downtown condo conjure up images of high-flying urban nightlife? Since Turner is an unlikable figure to many, I suspect detractors could find all sorts of evidence from the consumer goods in his life – clothes, appearance, vehicle, shopping patterns, and home – to illustrate their dislike. Some of these objects may indeed be connected to white, middle/upper-middle class suburbanites.

This is the not the first time McMansions have been linked to immorality and crime. See, for example, the suggestions in Gone Girl. And such narratives have a much longer history in novels, films, and TV shows that in the postwar era loved to peel back the facade of suburban life to find its truly seemly underbelly. Whether such links and depictions are connected to demonstrable patterns of morality and criminality is another story…

 

Decrease in families living in middle-income neighborhoods

A new study shows widening residential segregation by social class:

More than one-third of families in large metropolitan areas now live in neighborhoods of concentrated affluence or concentrated poverty, and middle-class neighborhoods have become less common, according to new research by a Cornell sociologist and her colleague. The effect on children could be critical, they say.

Kendra Bischoff, Cornell assistant professor of sociology, and Sean Reardon of Stanford University found that the percentage of families living in very rich neighborhoods more than doubled, from 6.6 percent to 15.7 percent, between 1970 and 2012. At the same time, the percentage of families in traditional middle-income neighborhoods fell from 65 percent to 41 percent…

Moreover, the rate of income segregation has accelerated in recent years, Bischoff said. From 2007 to 2012 – the period that spanned the Great Recession and the early years of recovery – income segregation grew by 3.2 percentage points in just five years, compared to growth of approximately 4.5 percentage points in each decade since 1970.

Creating and sustaining mixed-income neighborhoods is difficult. If neighborhoods are desirable, they can attract more buyers which can drive up prices. Once neighborhoods have a certain level of wealth, they are often reluctant to allow cheaper housing. On the other end, poor neighborhoods don’t tend to attract middle-class or upper-class residents – unless there is major redevelopment and poorer residents are moved out (ranging from urban renewal projects after World War II to gentrification today).

The authors emphasize the impact this can have on children:

These trends may be particularly damaging for children, Bischoff says. When the affluent live in isolation, it concentrates not only income and wealth in a small number of communities. It also concentrates social capital and political power, Bischoff said, such as the amount of time parents have to spend at the neighborhood school, the amount of green space or number of libraries in the neighborhood or the know-how and resources to organize political action.

Since the Coleman Report of the 1960s, we’ve known that having poorer kids in schools with wealthier kids is helpful for their development. However, increasing segregation by social class makes this even more difficult.

Who is moving to cities? Young, educated, wealthy, childless, white

Certain people – not everyone – are moving to American cities:

Americans aren’t moving back to the cities. Just 20- and 30-somethings.

But actually, not all 20- and 30-somethings are moving back to the cities. Only those with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are.

And not even all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are moving back into cities. Mostly the ones without school-age kids are.

And if you thought that was it, it turns out that not all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree in the top 40 percent of income without school-age children are moving back into cities. It’s mostly just the ones that are white.

And does this group receive disproportionate attention from (1) city leaders who want a new generation of wealthy city residents and (2) the media who may identify well with these particular demographics? If the people moving to cities did not share these traits (such as immigrants), would they get as much attention?

Thompson also suggests geographic segregation by class: the wealthiest clustering in the densest cities with everyone else setting for suburbia. It has been this way for a while…

Living as the only Section 8 resident in a wealthy suburb

Mary Schmich tells the story of Winnetka’s sole Section 8 resident:

In a Chicago suburb where million-dollar homes are common and the median household income exceeds $200,000, Miranda held a rare distinction for a while: He was the only person in town with a Section 8 housing choice voucher.

With his large belly and his mustache, his T-shirt and his jeans, he was a notable presence in the village. He liked to be out and about — staying inside depressed him — and his subsidized one-bedroom apartment on Elm Street put him in the heart of Winnetka’s action, meaning close to the Metra station, a bookstore, a Peet’s, a Starbucks, restaurants and boutiques, most of which he couldn’t afford.

He was often spotted with a big coffee cup in one hand, a cigarette in the other, maybe sitting on a park bench. He liked going to the library and, in the summer, relaxing by the lake…

Having a stable home of his own in a tranquil place offered him some peace that life otherwise denied him.

As much as residential segregation by race and ethnicity is present in the suburbs, this highlights another aspect: segregation by social class. According to the Census, Winnetka has over 12,000 residents, is very white – 94.8%, and also very wealthy – a median household income of over $207,000 and a median value of owner-occupied housing units of $941,800. How much affordable housing is available in places like Winnetka? Previous efforts to introduce the idea have met resistance. Does having any Section 8 residents threaten property values or the community’s image? Suburban residents don’t have to actively oppose such plans to provide space for poorer residents; their zoning and comprehensive plans can make their thoughts pretty clear. Would their opinions change if they met a person like Thomas Miranda? Maybe, but no matter how much they might like him as an individual, too many such residents of a certain status would not be good.

“Eager to Move to the City, but Stranded in the Suburbs”

The New York Times recently profiled a number of suburbanites who would prefer to live in the big city but can’t because of high housing prices:

Like many others in her sociological cohort these days — men and women whose children are grown and who want to trade those unused rooms in Tudor- and Victorian-style houses, as well as the steep suburban property taxes, for the city’s excitement and convenience — Ms. Fomerand finds herself stranded in the suburbs.

These empty-nesters have reaped the benefits of the suburbs: They sent their children to excellent public schools and raised them in safety and comfort, in backyards, playrooms and cul-de-sacs. And their houses have increased nicely in value. Now they would like to find apartments with doormen and elevators so they don’t have to climb stairs, shovel snow and schlep packages. They want a place where they can “age in place,” as the phrase goes. But they are finding that in the past 15 years, prices for such apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn have risen far more than the values of their suburban homes, so much that they may never make it back to living in the city they always thought they would return to. Instead, they end up staying in their houses, or downsizing to smaller suburban homes or apartments.

To be sure, this is a problem largely felt by the comfortable: New Yorkers who have had the luck and income to live where they choose, who have had the luxury of planning and expecting a certain lifestyle when they grow older. These people could live less expensively in other cities, but often their family, friends and work are here, and they don’t want to leave the area.

“This is one of the most commonly discussed issues,” said Mark A. Nadler, director of Westchester sales for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. “People will say, ‘Yes, I’m moving to the city,’ but unless they’re wealthy, they end up resigning themselves to staying in the suburbs.”

Two quick thoughts in reaction to this piece.

  1. Those profiled in this story generally want to move to Manhattan or Brooklyn. Why don’t they consider moving to other parts of New York City? Underlying this could be continued ideas about what areas of New York City are desirable, safe, and more white. It is not really whether they can move to the city at all; it is more about whether they can move to the trendy neighborhoods in which they would prefer to live.
  2. There is only brief mention of affordable housing in a piece that is largely about housing prices. At the same time, this is kind of an odd note to hit; New York City prices are too high because a number of older suburbanites cannot find affordable housing in the city. If you want to talk about housing prices and affordable housing, why not highlight the less wealthy in the region who could truly benefit from such a move to the city (as opposed to doing so as a lifestyle choice)? Too often, stories about affordable housing highlight empty-nesters and downsizers (often alongside young professionals) – probably the sorts of people cities would love to have – rather than consistently examining the lives of lower-class residents.

More than ten year gap in life span among rich and poor

New data shows that the difference in life spans between richer and poorer Americans continues to grow:

The poor are losing ground not only in income, but also in years of life, the most basic measure of well-being. In the early 1970s, a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 1.2 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half, according to an analysis by the Social Security Administration. Fast-forward to 2001, and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart.

New research released on Friday contains even more jarring numbers. Looking at the extreme ends of the income spectrum, economists at the Brookings Institution found that for men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years.

For women, the gap grew to 13 years, from 4.7 years…

It is hard to point to one overriding cause, but public health researchers have a few answers. In recent decades, smoking, the single biggest cause of preventable death, has helped drive the disparity, said Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the rich and educated began to drop the habit, its deadly effects fell increasingly on poorer, uneducated people. Mr. Fenelon has calculated that smoking accounted for a third to a fifth of the gap in life expectancy between men with college degrees and men with only high school degrees. For women it was as much as a quarter.

In the set of the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, you can’t have as much of the second and third if the first is not the same. While we often discuss inequality of opportunities or outcomes, we spend less time focusing on the body though commentators like Ta-Nehisi Coates have recently drawn more attention to the role of bodies in racial differences.

The article does suggest that evidence shows access to healthcare is not a big driver of this gap.