Tag Archive for: remote work

California’s Economy is Weaker Than it Looks

Whisper it, but the $45 billion surplus Gavin Newsom has projected for California next year isn’t quite what it seems. In fact, the bulk of that surplus is largely due to the earnings of a few giants such as Google, Apple and Meta (formerly Facebook), as well as a handful of IPOs.

This inconvenient truth hasn’t stopped the Governor from proposing a record-high $286.4 billion budget that will focus on education, health spending for undocumented residents, and expanding the state’s already massive social spend.

Indeed, even with a surplus, the state legislature seems determined not to lower taxes but to raise them. Newsom plans to implement a single payer health care system funded by massive new taxes on business and higher income revenues, raising what is already the nation’s highest rate. On top of that, the legislature seems ready to impose other wealth taxes on the very rich who keep the state afloat.

Yet the reliance on the elites — the 1% who account for half the state’s income tax — could prove troubling once the current stock market boom ends, and the IPO picture darkens. The state tax and regulatory regime has already kneecapped most other sectors of the economy, including both blue collar industries like manufacturing, energy and construction. And much of this has been accelerated by a growing exodus of companies, including such iconic firms as Tesla, Oracle, HP Enterprises, Charles Schwab, Bechtel, Parsons Engineering, and others. Meta has reportedly purchased thirty-three floors in an Austin high rise.

Despite professing to be the start-up capital of America, California’s leaders simply ignore or dismiss any notion of economic peril. But the reality is stark: this is a state that suffers the country’s highest cost-of-living adjusted poverty rate, the largest gap between the middle class and the rich, among the most crowded housing, and the second lowest homeownership rate. Post-pandemic it also has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

These facts are rarely discussed in the predictably pro-Newsom media. The party line is that such attacks reflect the political bias of Right wing “haters”. Yet what California needs is not media or academic shills, but a willingness to confront the state’s emerging neo-feudal structure that, amid unprecedented wealth, has done little for most residents. Only a course correction, and change of consciousness, can restore the state to its former greatness.

This piece first appeared at UnHerd.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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.

Homepage photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Feudal Future Podcast – The Metaverse Explained

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by American entrepreneur, Rony Abovitz, and Charlie Fink, AR/VR consultant and professor of Chapman University to discuss the metaverse and what the future holds in a digital world.

Feudal Future Podcast – Restoring the California Dream

Joel and Marshall discuss how we can restore the California dream, stopping the outflow of millennials and families headed for states that now offer better opportunity than California.

Feudal Future Podcast – Cities of the Future

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Cullum Clark and Austin Williams about the future of cities and what it will take to build the new world.

Own Nothing and Love It

From the ancient world to modern times, the class of small property owners have constituted the sine qua non of democratic self-government. But today this class is under attack by what Aristotle described as an oligarchia, an unelected power elite that controls the political economy for its own purposes. In contrast, the rise of small holders were critical to the re-emergence and growth of democracy first in the Netherlands, followed by North America, Australia, and much of Europe.

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Feudal Future Podcast – The Purpose Behind the Podcast

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky sit down with…themselves! Joel and Marshall share the purpose behind the podcast as well as memorable moments and learning lessons along the way.

Feudal Future Podcast – The World After COVID

On this episode of Feudal Future, Marshall Toplansky hosts a discussion of the global future after COVID with Richard Florida, Joel Kotkin, Bheki Mahlobo, Li Sun, and Laure Mandeville.

Feudal Future Podcast – Is There Hope? The Future of California Politics

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Tom Campbell and Shawn Steel to discuss the future of California politics.

The Great Office Refusal

The pandemic has cut a swath through our sense of normalcy, but as has been the case throughout history, a disastrous plague also brings opportunities to reshape and even improve society. COVID-19 provides the threat of greater economic concentration, but also a unique chance to recast our geography, expand the realm of the middle class, boost social equity, and develop better ways to create sustainable communities.

Driven partly by fear of infection, and by the liberating rise of remote work, Americans have been increasingly freed from locational constraints. Work continues apace in suburbs and particularly in sprawling exurbs that surround core cities, while the largest downtowns (central business districts, or CBDs) increasingly resemble ghost towns.

This shift has made it more practical for individuals and particularly families to migrate to locations where they can find more affordable rents, and perhaps even buy a house. But such a pattern may be countered by investors on Wall Street, who seem determined to turn the disruption to their own advantage by gearing up efforts to buy out increasingly expensive single-family homes, transforming potential homeowners into permanent rental serfs and much of the country into a latifundium dominated by large landlords.

We are in the midst of what the CEO of Zillow has called “the great reshuffling,” essentially an acceleration of an already entrenched trend of internal American migration toward suburbs, the sunbelt, and smaller cities. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, a preference for larger homes in less dense areas grew from 53% to 60%, according to Pew. As many as 14 million to 23 million workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, half of whom say they are seeking more affordable places to live.

This suggests that the downtown cores of U.S. cities will continue to struggle. Since the pandemic began, tenants have given back around 200 million square feet of commercial real estate, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2%, matching the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. Between September 2019 and September 2020, the biggest job losses, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, have been in big cities (nearly a 10% drop in employment), followed by their close-in suburbs, while rural areas suffered only a 6% drop, and exurbs less than 5%. Today our biggest cities—Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—account for three of the five highest unemployment rates among the 51 largest metropolitan areas.

The rise of remote work drives these trends. Today, perhaps 42% of the 165 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full time, up from 5.7% in 2019. When the pandemic ends, that number will probably drop, but one study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 employees, projects that 20% of the U.S. workforce will still work from home post-COVID. 

Others predict a still more durable shift: A University of Chicago study suggests that a full one-third of the workforce could remain remote, and in Silicon Valley, the number could stabilize near 50%. Both executives and employees have been impressed by the surprising gains of remote work, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms—including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter—expect a large proportion of their workforces to continue to work remotely. Nine out of 10 organizations, according to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies, plan to keep at least a hybrid of remote and on-site work indefinitely.

The shift of work from the office to the home, or at least to less congested spaces, threatens the strict geographic hierarchy of many elite corporations. Some corporate executives, like Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Dimon, are determined to force employees back into Manhattan offices, like it or not. It’s now a common mantra among like-minded executives, especially those connected to downtown office development, that workers are “pining” to return to the office. Some have even threatened employees who do not come back in person with lower wages and decreased opportunities for promotion, while offering to reward those willing to take the personal hit of coming back on-site every day.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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: Steven Zwerink via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Never Going Back

For months, corporate hegemons, real estate brokers and their media acolytes have been insisting that a return to “normalcy,” that is, to the office, was imminent. Some companies threatened to reduce the incomes of remote workers, and others warned darkly that those most reluctant to return to the five-day-a-week grind would find their own ambitions ground down to the dust. Workers have been reported to be “pining” to return to office routines.

Fears of returning to the office due to the Delta variant have delayed a mass return to gateway cities. Office vacancies grew in August. Since the pandemic began, tenants gave back around 200 million square feet, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2 percent, matching the peak of the financial crisis. Overall, it is widely expected that office rents will not recover for at least five years.

Things could get ugly as some $2 trillion in commercial real estate debt becomes due by 2025, particularly in large, transit dependent central business districts, reflecting in part reluctance among commuters to ride public conveyances. This is a world-wide phenomenon—occurring in New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and other financial centers—and accompanied by a marked decline in business travel, with conventions and meetings particularly devastated.

A New Economic Geography

So where is the work getting done? Increasingly, in the suburbs and exurbs of the big metros, smaller metros, cities and even some rural areas, all of which offer lower urban densities, which usually means less overcrowding. In the first year of the pandemic, big cities, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, suffered the biggest job losses, nearly 10 percent, followed by their suburbs, while rural areas suffered 6 percent and exurbs less than 5 percent. The highest unemployment rates today are in coastal blue states, while the lowest tend to be in central and southern states.

The shift towards dispersed and remote work suggests the beginnings of a new geographical and corporate paradigm. Suburbs and exurbs accounted for more than 90 percent of all new job creation in the last decade, but with the rise of remote work, proximity to the physical workplace has lost more  of its advantages. University of Pennsylvania Professor Susan Wachter notes that telework eliminates the choice between long commutes and inordinate housing costs. The areas where remote work is growing most are generally small cities, as well as Sunbelt locales in Florida and South Carolina.

The dispersion of work is not a matter of low-wage workers heading to cheap places to do low-status jobs. In metros over one million such as Raleigh-Cary, Austin, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Charlotte, professional and business-services jobs are growing much faster than they are in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. The number of employees using the office started to drop as early as 2017 in San Francisco, the biggest winner in the tech economy.

The pandemic supercharged these trends. The disturbing rate of fatalities and hospitalizations in the Northeast, notably New York City, including Manhattan but particularly the poorest sections of the outer boroughs, chased many urbanites to the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond. Even as infections spread to other regions, it remained easier to endure the pandemic in a more spacious house, particularly if mass transit is not necessary.

Demographer Wendell Cox shows that, despite the considerable spread to less crowded areas over the past year, areas with the highest urban densities, in spite of their lockdowns, have experienced two times or more overall adjusted Covid fatalities, after more than one year of draconian social distancing regulations that eliminated much of downtown employment and cut mass transit use by up to 90 percent. Car-dominated places, where people can more easily afford space, have lower infection and fatality rates; if other pandemics follow, as many suspect, memories of the recent hegira will remain.

The longer the pandemic lasts and new variants appear, the greater will be what new research from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis refers to as  “residual fear of proximity.” The team suggests that when the pandemic fades, roughly 20 percent or more of all work will be done from home, almost four times the already growing rate before the pandemic. A study from the University of Chicago suggests this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce and as high as 50 percent in Silicon Valley. Roughly 40 percent of all California jobs, including 70 percent of higher paying work, could be done at home, according to research by the Center of Jobs and the Economy.

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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: Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress under CC 1.0 License.