geographic inequality
May 23, 2018 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I've been reading a lot about income inequality recently (this FPP, this article, the inimitable kliuless, etc.), which has led to an inchoate idea about inequality that I'd like to pursue more. I'll be on vacation for the next few days, so it seems like an opportune time to try to find some reading.

My idea is in large part based on the place I'll be visiting, my hometown in Ohio. It's an old UAW town that thrived in the middle part of the 20th century, but today is supposedly the "unhappiest city in the US" now that much of the manufacturing base has disappeared. Our middle class declined more than any other city's from 2000 to 2014.

It seems to me that my hometown is the flipside of the Stewart and Brill articles. They're about the rise of the new meritocratic elite; we're the old middle class that got left behind. I feel like not only did the old postwar system that's been dismantled give rise to a thriving middle class; it also supported a large and decentralized number of small cities and towns where that middle class lived. Now, everything seems much more economically centralized, with almost everything centered in a few big, mostly coastal cities.

But of course, that's just based on a gut feeling, not on any real data or research. That's what I'm asking for here.

I've read a lot of stuff that's close to what I'm looking for, but nothing right on the nose. There's a lot about brain drain, for example. Jim Fallows is writing a lot about what towns are doing to recover from the loss, but not about how it happened in the first place. This article from the Times is probably the closest I've found, but I'd really like to see county-level data, and a longer time frame.

What have you got? I need some fun leisure reading!
posted by kevinbelt to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Now, everything seems much more economically centralized, with almost everything centered in a few big, mostly coastal cities.

I don't think that's quite true - it's more accurate to say that for every aging city, there are some tony suburbs near it that all the wealth class moved to, and some that all the poor people moved to, and yes, maybe one that is considered 'middle class'. Cities are large enough to be outliers, in that they typically contain a larger mix of wealthy to poor.

I'll see if I can find some examples.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2018

I found George Packer's The Undwinding to be a very compelling read about how things started falling apart. It follows people from several urban and rural areas to give a compelling overall picture of the, well, unwinding.

The folks at United for a Fair Economy put out some fairly interesting things as well, some of which are on this list.
posted by rw at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2018

The Unwinding follows Youngstown OH and the Piedmont Triad region in NC, among others.
posted by rw at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2018

I just read this review (lrb, paywalled - memail for a pdf) of Richard Florida's 'The New Urban Crisis: Gentrification, Housing Bubbles, Growing Inequality and What We Can Do about It' which is about cities and how they interact with inequality.
So why are these cities characterised by ‘growing inequality’? First, and most innocently, the highly skilled people who work in these cities produce more value than those who don’t. Clever, productive people tend to get jobs in the superstar cities. But it’s also the case that people who work in these cities become more creative and more productive, sparking off and competing against one another.
followed by
Second, over the last few decades those at the top of our economy have become adept at taking ever more for themselves at the expense of customers, employees, shareholders and tax collectors.
Ben Rogers, the review author, has critical stuff to say about this.
The New Urban Crisis does not feel to me the seminal book that some of those quoted on the back cover claim it to be. For one thing, it ranges slightly fuzzily from a focus on the US to advanced economies in general, to the globe as a whole; from an interest in all cities to the special features of the most successful ones. And Florida almost entirely overlooks one central part of the story: culture. ...

... The arts and media sectors – so important to cultural capital – are concentrated in a few global cities.
It sounds like a review and a book you might want to look at?
posted by Joeruckus at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2018

I asked a question along these lines which got some interesting answers.
posted by clawsoon at 5:27 PM on May 23, 2018

Washington Post - The Wealthy are Walling Themselves Off in Cities Segregated by Class.

Brookings Neighborhood Segregation

Its tough to find much on this stuff because it's not a topic many want to research, due to its serious implications.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:10 AM on May 24, 2018

Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman may contain references to research you are interested in. He writes about the effects of Universal Basic Income in places where it's been tried, and the effects on human progress of the end of poverty. The "notes" at the end contain links to numerous research studies he refers to in the text.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:55 PM on May 24, 2018

I feel like not only did the old postwar system that's been dismantled give rise to a thriving middle class; it also supported a large and decentralized number of small cities and towns where that middle class lived. Now, everything seems much more economically centralized, with almost everything centered in a few big, mostly coastal cities.

I don't have a citation for you either, but you should read about the New Deal planners. The old system you're talking about was deliberate. There was a belief in the '30s among FDR and his brain trust that one of the primary causes of the Great Depression was too much centralization, which allowed single-point failures to cascade into widespread disaster. People were starving in the cities in '32 while healthy crops languished on farms, because the food distribution system had broken down -- bank failures, railroad failures, agribusiness failures. That mentality was also the basis for the Federal Reserve Act of 1917 which placed federal reserve banks in numerous American cities, decentralizing finance from its increasing focus in New York City. (Look what's back.) After the war, the government policy was to place defense plants all over the country -- intentionally to spread the wealth (and win support by pork-barrel politics, of course!). And there was their vastly increased use of anti-trust powers to break up any corporation that got "too large," meaning: large enough to have an effect on the economy; the goal was to turn a small number of big companies into a large number of small, constantly-competing, geographically distributed small companies. I think you really can see the wave of efficiency, centralization, and wealth & power inequality rushing inexorably forward from the 1880s to the 1920s, until the New Dealers used the emergency situation of the Depression to smash it and replace it with something more "democratic." That reformed dispensation has been rolled back by the conservatives (playing the long game, which they won in 1994) and we are back to a configuration very much like the '20s again.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:11 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of a Krugman column from late last year. That column itself links to an interesting NYT article by Emily Badger as well as to a 2010 paper that Krugman presented to the American Association of Geographers.
posted by mhum at 2:18 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are professors at University of California Santa Cruz studying and publishing on this topic. Check out the work of Drs. Manuel Pastor and Chris Brenner.

You can download their book, Equity, Growth, and Community: What the Nation Can Learn from America's Metro Areas for free from the UC Press.

They explore what metro regions have kept more equitable societies as they've grown from 1978 to 2010 and speculate on what regions can do to address inequities going forward.

I came across this recently, after having met Dr. Brenner this week at a community event and hearing about his work from a local community college board member as well.
posted by rw at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and speaking of Paul Krugman, earlier today he tweeted a reference to a book by Enrico Moretti, The New Geography of Jobs, which seems to relevant to this question.
posted by mhum at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2018

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