Middle Class

Florida’s Tourism Addiction

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Remember those innocent days last summer, when the biggest worry was high gas prices? Florida already felt the pinch as tourism dropped dramatically. Then, as the financial markets collapsed last fall, Florida’s leaders woke up and began talking about diversification. Like deer caught in the crosshairs of a rifle scope, economic boosters darted around looking for new safe places in the knowledge economy, ways to revitalize agriculture, and even exploring private space development to supplement the stuttering NASA program.  read more »

Memorialist of Suburbia

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John Updike, the bard of the suburbs, died this week. He was one of the first great American writers to revel in the opportunity, beauty and convenience that the suburbs have long reflected. His voice, first found in the sixties, acted as a reasonable anchor in the tempest of radicalism that swept through the country. He empathized with the American dream rising in the raw suburbs being carved from agricultural land.  read more »

Obama’s Friends: Enemies of the American Dream?

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President Barack Obama has rightly spoken positively about the American Dream, how it is becoming more expensive and how it needs to be reclaimed. But to do this, he may have to disregard many of those who have been among his strongest supporters and the dense urban centers which have been his strongest bastion of support.  read more »

The Dawn of a New Age in the War on Poverty

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An article published in the Chicago Tribune on June 29, 1992 is entitled “The Great Society’s Great Failure.” It profiles the Inez, Kentucky family that appeared in the famous front porch photo that launched LBJ’s War on Poverty in 1964. Suffice it to say without revealing the particular gory details of their thwarted lives, the family’s fate was as dismal as the outcome of the War on Poverty. Mike Duncan, an Inez banker and now chairman of the Republican National Committee – battling to retain his position – put it mildly: “The War on Poverty did not succeed.”  read more »

Obama Family Values

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For a generation, conservatives have held a lock on the so-called "values" issue. But Barack Obama is slowly picking that lock, breaking into one of the GOP's last remaining electoral treasures.

The change starts with the powerful imagery of the new First Family. The Obamas seem to have it all: charming children; the supremely competent yet also consistently supportive wife, and the dynamo grandma, Marian Robinson, who serves as matriarch, moral arbiter and babysitter in chief.  read more »

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 »