Middle Class

Does Growing Inequality Mean the End of Upward Mobility?

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Barack Obama's ascension to the presidency won't end racism, but it does mean race is no longer the dominant issue in American politics. Instead, over the coming decades, class will likely constitute the major dividing line in our society—and the greatest threat to America's historic aspirations. This is a fundamental shift from the last century. Writing in the early 1900s, W.E.B. DuBois observed, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." Developments in the ensuing years bore out this assertion.  read more »

A Little Genius for the City’s So-Called ‘Art World’

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There’s a little girl – maybe 10 or 12 years old – whose family owns a store just a couple of miles from Downtown Los Angeles. She spends a lot of time at the place after her nearby school lets out for the day, sort of helping out but mostly just hanging around where her older relatives can see her.

I call her “Little Genius” because she’s always reading a book or busy at a computer or making paper dolls or working on some other challenge.  read more »

In a Financial Crisis What Happens to the Dog Bakeries?

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What will happen to the dog bakeries? I ask this question, because this line of business (and perhaps many others) escaped my attention for so long. I saw my first one years ago in suburban St. Louis. As one interested in economics, poverty and history, it struck me that dog bakeries represented a perfect symbol for the many “discretionary” business lines that have been established in recent decades in what has been called the consumer economy.

This discretionary economy consists of businesses for which do not exist in societies with little discretionary income. It includes in its ranks a host of businesses that did not even exist before the last couple of decades, from dog bakeries, to Starbucks, tony cafes, specialized clothing stores and personal fitness centers. While these businesses might have been attractive to the households of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, people just didn’t have enough discretionary income to support them.  read more »

A Bailout For Yuppies

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The recent call by the porn industry – a big employer where I live, in the San Fernando Valley – for a $5 billion bailout elicited outrage in other places. Around here, it sparked something more akin to nervous laughter. Yet lending a helping hand to Pornopolis is far from the most absurd approach being discussed to stimulate the economy.

Some influentials close to the administration may even find the porn industry a bit too tangible for their tastes. After all, the pornsters make a product that sells internationally, appeals to the masses and employs a lot of people whose skills are, well, more practical than ideational.  read more »

The Mobility Paradox: Investing in Human Capital Fuels Migration

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China has an interesting urban development strategy. The government bypasses those areas that it considers backward and plagued by poverty and entrenched political corruption. Instead, the investment goes into those areas it presumes to be new boomtowns.

Now imagine if that Darwinian approach was used here in the United States. A report (“City Beautiful”) authored by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia advocates pushing federal infrastructure dollars – which could soon be flowing in the hundreds of billions – not towards our tired, hard-pressed urban areas but those that have experienced the greatest extent of gentrification.  read more »

Current Policy Overlooks the New Homeless

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San Francisco: A Chevron employee is forced to move his family of four into their Mitsubishi Gallant after being laid off…

Atlanta: Jeniece Richards moved from Michigan to Atlanta a year ago, but despite her best efforts, and two college degrees, remains homeless. She is living in temporary housing with her two children and younger brother…

Denver: As Carrie Hinkle’s hours dwindled, she was forced to choose between paying rent or buying food for her daughter. The two are now working with local agencies towards permanent housing, again…

These stories, plucked from the headlines of the past months are more than the typical holiday coverage. They show faces of the newly homeless, growing as the economy crumbles and opportunities fade.  read more »

Class and the Future of Planning

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Economic segregation may be a foregone conclusion, as studies have long suggested. For one thing, our first tendency is to buy the best place we can afford, intentionally locating to those parts of a region that appeal to others with similar buying power. Secondly, we tend to buy something most suitable to our tastes, which steers us into areas populated by those with similar viewpoints.

The implications for contemporary planning processes are profound, especially since current best practices revolve so much around form and style and take so little measure of economics, choice, and consequence.  read more »

A Housing Boom, but for Whom?

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By Susanne Trimbath and Juan Montoya

We just passed an era when the “American Dream” of home ownership was diminished as the growth of home prices outpaced income. From 2001 through 2006, home prices grew at an annual average of 6.85%, more than three times the growth rate for income.

This divergence between income and housing costs has turned out to be a disaster, particularly for buyers at the lower end of the spectrum. In contrast, affluent buyers – those making over $120,000 – the bubble may still have been a boom, even if not quite as large as many had hoped for.  read more »

Oregon’s Fringes: A New Rural Alternative

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Once the bastion of a thriving rural middle class, Oregon’s rural communities are now barely scraping by. The state’s timber industry employed 81,400 residents at its peak in 1978. At the time, the industry made up 49% of all manufacturing jobs in the state according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Since then, the recessions of the early eighties and nineties, increased land-use restriction, decreased timber supply, global competition and automation of the timber industry have devastated rural communities that relied on once-plentiful timber jobs.  read more »

Auto Bailout: Help Mississippi, Not Michigan

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We should be getting used to the depressing spectacle of once-great corporations begging for assistance from Washington. Yet perhaps nothing is more painful than to see General Motors and other big U.S.-based car companies – once exemplars of both American economic supremacy and middle-class aspirations – fall to such an appalling state.

Yet if GM represents all that is bad about the American economy, particularly manufacturing, it does not represent the breadth of our industrial landscape. Indeed, even as the dull-witted leviathan sinks, many nimble companies have shown remarkable resiliency.  read more »