by Max Brantley
The Democrat-Gazette today (subscription) focused on Arkansas figures of a trend found in the 2010 Census and much discussed since — the rising poverty in suburbs, previously seen as the land of milk and honey versus ills of urban areas. The number of poor people has been growing much faster in suburbs than cities on a percentage basis.
Of course, the poor are still rising everywhere. Earning power of all but the hedge funders has declined in real dollar terms here and everywhere. Fascinating statistic in a highly recommended Charlie Duff book about Detroit: beginning autoworkers now make less, adjusted for inflation, than workers on Henry Ford's Model Ts.
There's a double whammy in the rise in poor people in the suburbs. Those who commute must pay more to do it. And they move to areas with social service networks not as well developed as in the urban areas.
Irony abounds. Inner cities have greater attraction, particularly with white, younger professionals. See Brooklyn. See the signs of an emerging residential core on Main Street, Little Rock. Suburbs are also becoming more ethnically diverse, though economics is as much of a problem for some as skin color. See Bryant's resistance to more apartment projects with subsidized units.
This from the Huffington Post several years ago highlighted the racial and political aspects of the changing suburban landscape.
It's only somewhat related, but one of the best things I've read this weekend is George Packer's article in the New Yorker about a growing political awareness among the billionaires of Silicon Valley. It's about much more than that. It's about population movement from San Francisco to suburbs — the high-tech boom has driven out poor and ethnic minorities. It's about the corporate lifestyles of the tech companies — WiFi-equipped buses take people who prefer to live in San Francisco to jobs in the suburbs rather than the other way around. It's about the craziness of real estate prices in places where the big companies have succeeded. It's about the culture that created these new fortunes — not government-financed office buildings, but bright people (some of them dropouts) with big ideas and private venture capital who've happily established beachheads in dead warehouse districts, now gentrifying crazily. The article notes, too, that the marvelous inventions of the information age, though they've undeniably made any number of things easier and lots of people wealthy, haven't translated into a broad lift-all-boats prosperity.
Here's Packer's blog post on it. When last I checked, the article wasn't available, but he has a link and it's highly recommended when you can see it.
PS — I know. Little Rock is not San Francisco. But the trends are still apparent here at least to some degree, both in growth of poor in suburbs, a heightened interest in urban living and a revival of some forlorn stretches of real estate, as shown in the photo illustration above. It came from our cover story on downtown Little Rock.
The photo itself is from a block-by-block slideshow of Main Street happenings.
PPS — There's a website devoted to the book and related information on which today's D-G article was based. It includes the chart below.