The Future Of America’s Working Class

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Forbes.com

Watford, England, sits at the end of a spur on the London tube’s Metropolitan line, a somewhat dreary city of some 80,000 rising amid the pleasant green Hertfordshire countryside. Although not utterly destitute like parts of south or east London, its shabby High Street reflects a now-diminished British dream of class mobility. It also stands as a potential warning to the U.S., where working-class, blue-collar white Americans have been among the biggest losers in the country’s deep, persistent recession.

As you walk through Watford, midday drinkers linger outside the One Bell pub near the center of town. Many of these might be considered “yobs,” a term applied to youthful, largely white, working-class youths, many of whom work only occasionally or not at all. In the British press yobs are frequently linked to petty crime and violent behavior–including a recent stabbing outside another Watford pub, and soccer-related hooliganism.

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Houston: Model City

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Forbes.com

Do cities have a future? Pessimists point to industrial-era holdovers like Detroit and Cleveland. Urban boosters point to dense, expensive cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco. Yet if you want to see successful 21st-century urbanism, hop on down to Houston and the Lone Star State.

You won’t be alone: Last year Houston added 141,000 residents, more than any region in the U.S. save the city’s similarly sprawling rival, Dallas-Fort Worth. Over the past decade Houston’s population has grown by 24%–five times the rate of San Francisco, Boston and New York. In that time it has attracted 244,000 new residents from other parts of the U.S., while older cities experienced high rates of out-migration.
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The Best Cities For Jobs

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Forbes.com

This year’s “best places for jobs” list is easily the most depressing since we began compiling our annual rankings almost a decade ago. In the past–even in bad years–there were always stalwart areas creating lots of new jobs. In 2007’s survey 283 out of 393 metros areas showed job growth, and those at the top were often growing employment by at least 5% to 6%. Last year the number dropped to 63. This year’s survey, measuring growth from January 2009 to January 2010, found only 13 metros with any growth.

Mike Shires at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, who develops the survey, calls it “an awful year.” Making it even worse, the source of new jobs in almost all areas were either government employment or highly tax payer-funded sectors like education and health. This year’s best-performing regions were those that suffered the smallest losses in the private economy while bulking up on government steroids.

So far the recovery has favored the government-dominated apparat and those places where public workers congregate.After all, besides Wall Street, public-financed workers have been the big beneficiaries of the stimulus, with state and local governments receiving more than one-third of all funds. Public employment grew by nearly 2% over the past three years, while private employment has dropped by 7%.

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Don’t Mess With Texas

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Forbes.com

One of the most ironic aspects of our putative “Age of Obama” is how little impact it has had on the nation’s urban geography. Although the administration remains dominated by boosters from traditional blue state cities–particularly the president’s political base of Chicago–the nation’s metropolitan growth continues to shift mostly toward a handful of Sunbelt red state metropolitan areas.

Our Urbanist in Chief may sit in the Oval Office, but Americans continue to vote with their feet for the adopted hometown of widely disdained former President George W. Bush. According to the most recent Census estimates, the Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas, region added 146,000 people between 2008 and 2009–the most of any region in the country–a healthy 2.3% increase.

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Forced March To The Cities

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Forbes.com

California is in trouble: Unemployment is over 13%, the state is broke and hundreds of thousands of people, many of them middle-class families, are streaming for the exits. But to some politicians, like Sen. Alan Lowenthal, the real challenge for California “progressives” is not to fix the economy but to reengineer the way people live.

In Lowenthal’s case the clarion call is to take steps to ban free parking. This way, the Long Beach Democrat reasons, Californians would have to give up their cars and either take the bus or walk to their local shops. “Free parking has significant social, economic and environmental costs,” Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times. “It increases congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Scarily, his proposal actually passed the State Senate.

One would hope that the mania for changing how people live and work could be dismissed as just local Californian lunacy. Yet across the country, and within the Obama Administration, there is a growing predilection to endorse policies that steer the bulk of new development into our already most-crowded urban areas.

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Welcome to Ecotopia

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Forbes.com

In this era of tea-partying revolutionary-era dress-ups, one usually associates secessionism with the far right. But if things turn sour for the present majority in Washington, you should expect a whole new wave of separatism to emerge on the greenish left coast.

In 1975 Ernest Callenbach, an author based in Berkeley, Calif., published a sci-fi novel about enviro-secessionists called Ecotopia; a prequel, Ecotopia Rising, came out in 1981. These two books, which have acquired something of a cult following, chronicle–largely approvingly–the emergence of a future green nation along the country’s northwest coast.

Aptly described by Callenbach as “an empire apart,” this region is, in real life, among the world’s most scenic and blessed by nature. Many in this part of America have long been more enthusiastic about their ties to Asia than those with the rest of the country. It is also home to many fervent ecological, cultural and political activists, who often feel at odds with the less enlightened country that lies beyond their soaring mountains.

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Phoenix, Put Aside Dreams of Gotham

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The Arizona Republic

Now that Phoenix’s ascendancy has been at least momentarily suspended, its residents are no doubt wondering what comes next. One tendency is to say the city needs to grow up and become more like East Coast cities or Portland, Ore., with dense urban cores and well-developed rail transit. The other ready option is always inertia – a tendency to wait for things to come back the way they were.

Neither approach will work in the long run. Over the coming decade, Phoenix has to recalibrate its economy into something based on more than being a second option for Californians and speculative real-estate investment. Instead, it needs to focus laserlike on economic diversity and creating good jobs. Read more

The War Against Suburbia

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The American

A year into the Obama administration, America’s dominant geography, suburbia, is now in open revolt against an urban-centric regime that many perceive threatens their way of life, values, and economic future. Scott Brown’s huge upset victory by 5 percent in Massachusetts, which supported Obama by 26 percentage points in 2008, largely was propelled by a wave of support from middle-income suburbs all around Boston. The contrast with 2008 could not be plainer.

Browns’s triumph followed similar wins by Republican gubernatorial contenders last November in Virginia and New Jersey. In those races suburban voters in places like Middlesex County, New Jersey and Loudoun County, Virginia—which had support President Obama just a year earlier—deserted the Democats in droves. Also in November, voters in Nassau County, New York upset Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, an attractive Democrat who had carefully cultivated suburban voters.

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Move the United Nations to Dubai

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Forbes.com

The opening last week of the world’s tallest building, the half-mile-high Burj Dubai, has largely been greeted with guffaws and groans. The Daily Telegraph labeled it “the new pinnacle of vanity”–“a purposeless monument to the subprime era.” The Wall Street Journal compared it to the Tower of Babel. (When the Empire State Building was completed in 1931, in the throes of the greatest financial crisis of the 20th century, it was met with similar jeers. The then-tallest building in the world was called the Empty State Building, and it remained vacant for several years.)

Yet the Burj’s completion–indeed the whole wild enterprise known as Dubai–could signal a potential opportunity to the global community: turning the place into the headquarters for that other misguided ship, the United Nations.

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The Limits Of Politics

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Forbes.com

Reversing the general course of history, economics or demography is never easy, despite even the most dogged efforts of the best-connected political operatives working today.

Since the 2006 elections–and even more so after 2008–blue-state politicians have enjoyed a monopoly of power unprecedented in recent history. Hardcore blue staters control virtually every major Congressional committee, as well as the House Speakership and the White House. Yet they still have proved incapable of reversing the demographic and economic decline in the nation’s most “progressive” cities and states.

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