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Virtual Town Hall — Middle Class Survival Strategies

Join us October 17th for a live interactive webinar on how the middle class can survive and thrive during this time of social and economic uncertainty. Read more

Americans Won’t Live in the Pod

“No Bourgeois, No Democracy”
Barrington Moore

Protecting and fighting for the middle class regularly dominates rhetoric on the Right and Left. Yet activists on both sides now often seek to undermine single-family home ownership, the linchpin of middle-class aspiration.

The current drive to outlaw single-family zoning—the one protection homeowners possess against unwanted development—has notched bans in the City of Minneapolis and the state of Oregon, with California not far behind. Advocates have tapped an odd alliance of progressives and libertarians. Essentially, it marries two inflexible ideologies, in principle diametrically opposed, but neither of which see housing as a critical element of family and community. In its stead, the Left seeks to place the state in charge, while libertarians bow instinctively to any de-regulatory step they see as increasing “freedom and choice.”

Although couched in noble sentiments, both approaches are fundamentally hostile to both middle- and working-class aspirations. Without a home, the new generation—including minorities—will face a “formidable challenge” in boosting their worth. Property remains key to financial security: Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans while home owners have a median net worth more than 40 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Equally important, a shift from home ownership would also weaken the basis of democracy. Since ancient times, republican institutions have rested on the firmament of dispersed property ownership.

An Odd Time for More Density

The push for ever-greater density and against suburban home ownership could not come at a less propitious time. Even before the pandemic, big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were losing population. Since 2010, despite all the talk of a massive “return to the city,” suburbs and exurbs account for about 90% of all metropolitan-area growth. Millennials, often seen as an urban generation, have fueled population growth in the suburbs since 2010.

Millennials have had a hard time buying homes—among post-college millennials (25-34), ownership has dropped from 45.4% in 2000 to 37.0% in 2016, a drop of 18% according to Census Bureau data—but three-quarters want single-family detached houses, according a 2019 report on home buyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. A 2018 Apartment List survey found that 80% of millennials dream of home ownership. Among those under 35 who do buy homes, four-fifths choose single-family detached houses.

This shift has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, and could gain even more momentum from the rising crime and disorder in many of our core cities. Pew reports roughly one in four Americans either moved on account of COVID-19 or knew someone who did so, with the largest percentages for young people under 30. Since 2018, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans saying they want to live in cities dropped 55%, down to barely 13%. Rather than the much-ballyhooed “back to the city” movement, we are entering what Zillow describes as “a great reshuffling” to suburbs, smaller cities, and less expensive states. Even non-metro areas, for the first time in over a decade, are beginning to gain population.

The rise of online work is likely to accelerate the trend. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom projects we will see telecommuting increase from 5% of the workforce before the pandemic to something closer to 20%. More important still, most people now working from home express a preference—some 60% according to Gallup—to do so for the foreseeable future. Even when offices opened early this summer in New York, real estate brokers report, most workers refused to return. And now developers, like KB Homes, are adding home offices to their newest offerings.

These trends will be reinforced by shifts in job markets. A new survey by the Site Selectors guild suggests that only 10% of companies are looking to expand in large cities, one sixth as many as choose suburbs, and a third of those who favor rural areas. Meanwhile major office and residential complexes are being downsized, cancelled, or hit with major price reductions in cities from Chicago and New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Read the rest of this essay on the American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Podcast Episode 8: Making Sense of Urban Density, Death Rates & Dispersion with Wendell Cox

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, urban policy expert and noted demographer Wendell Cox joins hosts Joel and Marshall for a conversation on the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates, and public policy.

Green Policies Won’t Keep California Truckin’

No state advertises its green credentials more than California. That these policies often hurt the economy, driving up housing costs and narrowing opportunities for working-class people while not even doing much for the environment, has not discouraged the state’s environmental overlords. Read more

California’s Woke Hypocrisy

No state wears its multicultural veneer more ostentatiously than California. The Golden State’s leaders believe that they lead a progressive paradise, ushering in what theorists Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca call “a new progressive era.” Others see California as deserving of nationhood; it reflects, as a New York Times columnist put it, “the shared values of our increasingly tolerant and pluralistic society.”

In response to the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to defund the police—a move applauded by Senator Kamala Harris, a prospective Democratic vice presidential candidate, despite the city’s steep rise in homicides. San Francisco mayor London Breed wants to do the same in her increasingly crime-ridden, disordered city. This follows state attorney general Xavier Becerra’s numerous immigration-related lawsuits against the Trump administration, even as his state has become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants—complete with driver’s licenses for some 1 million and free health care.

Despite these progressive intentions, Hispanics and African-Americans—some 45 percent of California’s total population—fare worse in the state than almost anywhere nationwide. Based on cost-of-living estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percent of California’s African-Americans live in poverty, compared with 22 percent nationally. Fully one-third of Latinos, now the state’s largest ethnic group, live in poverty, compared with 21 percent outside the state. “For Latinos,” notes longtime political consultant Mike Madrid, “the California Dream is becoming an unattainable fantasy.”

Since 1990, Los Angeles’s black share of the population has dropped in half. In San Francisco, blacks constitute barely 5 percent of the population, down from 13 percent four decades ago. As a recent University of California at Berkeley poll indicates, 58 percent of African-Americans express interest in leaving the state—more than any ethnic group—while 45 percent of Asians and Latinos are also considering moving out. These residents may appreciate California’s celebration of diversity, but they find the state increasingly inhospitable to their needs and those of their families.

More than 30 years ago, the Population Reference Bureau predicted that California was creating a two-tier economy, with a more affluent white and Asian population and a largely poor Latino and African-American class. Rather than find ways to increase opportunity for blue-collar workers, the state imposed strict business regulations that drove an exodus of the industries—notably, manufacturing and middle-management service jobs—that historically provided gateways to the middle class for minorities. As a recent Chapman University study reveals, California is the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to creating middle-class jobs; it tops the nation in creating below-average and low-paying jobs.

Following Floyd’s death, even environmental groups like the Sierra Club issued bold proclamations against racism, but they still push policies that, in the name of fighting climate change, only lead to higher energy and housing costs, which hurt the aspirational poor. Many businesses, including small firms, must convert from cheap natural gas to expensive, green-generated electricity, a policy adamantly opposed by the state’s African-American, Latino, and Asian-Pacific chambers of commerce.

Meantime, California’s strict Covid-19 lockdown policies, imposed by a well-compensated (and still-employed) public sector, have imperiled small firms. “There’s a sense that there was major discrimination against local small businesses,” said Armen Ross, who runs the 200-member Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce in South Los Angeles. “They allowed Target and Costco to stay open while they were closed. Many mom-and-pops may never come back.” Many restaurants—roughly 60 percent are minority-owned—may never recover, notes the California Restaurant Association.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit Charlie Nguyen via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Book Interview: Joel Kotkin Speaks on Neo-Feudalism with Financial Sense

By: Chris Sheridan
On: FS Insider

Joel Kotkin, Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute, speaks with FS Insider about his latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.

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From the Right: Summer reading for political junkies

By: George J. Marlin
On: The Island Now

For some years, I have been recommending new political books readers might choose to crack open during their summer vacations. This year, however, I am taking a slightly different approach because many interesting books slated for publication in the spring have been put off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So, for political junkies, I recommend not only recent publications, but several books published decades ago that I took down from my library shelves and reread while confined to my home. (The out-of-print books can be purchased at abebooks.com.)

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Joel Kotkin talks with Danielle Smith about the Rebellion of America’s New Underclass

By: Danielle Smith
On: Omny

Joel Kotkin talks with Danielle Smith about how many Americans are being permanently marginalized, and how this economic disparity for younger generations threatens instability, politically and otherwise. Read more

The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass

Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.

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Preserving Opportunity for the Global Middle Class

On the first episode of the Feudal Future podcast, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky break down what it means to live in a feudal society, why we’re headed towards one, and what we can do to start reversing the trends.