Houston and The Realignment of America
The Wall Street Journal had a quite long and comprehensive op-ed a couple of days agao titled “The Realignment of America” on demographic shifts since 2000. While getting the link, I also noted it has been one of the most popular – and the most emailed – stories that day at WSJ. The graphic is pretty cool, and makes it look like everybody is headed to Texas (or maybe Arkansas?).
He analyzes the top 50 US metros, and puts them into four categories:
Start with the Coastal Megalopolises:
New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago (on the coast of Lake Michigan), Miami, Washington and Boston. Here is a pattern you don’t find in other big cities: Americans moving out and immigrants moving in, in very large numbers, with low overall population growth….
This is something few would have predicted 20 years ago. Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they’re moving out of our largest metro areas. They’re fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they’re moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations — these are driving many Americans elsewhere.
The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.
Democratic politicians like to decry what they describe as a widening economic gap in the nation. But the part of the nation where it is widening most visibly is their home turf, the place where they win their biggest margins (these metro areas voted 61% for John Kerry) and where, in exquisitely decorated Park Avenue apartments and Beverly Hills mansions with immigrant servants passing the hors d’oeuvres, they raise most of their money….
You see an entirely different picture in the 16 metro areas.
I call this category the Interior Boomtowns (none touches the Atlantic or Pacific coasts). Their population has grown 18% in six years. They’ve had considerable immigrant inflow, 4%, but with the exceptions of Dallas and Houston, this immigrant inflow has been dwarfed by a much larger domestic inflow — three million to 1.5 million overall.
Domestic inflow has been a whopping 19% in Las Vegas, 15% in the Inland Empire (California’s Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, where much of the outflow from Los Angeles has gone), 13% in Orlando and Charlotte, 12% in Phoenix, 10% in Tampa, 9% in Jacksonville (doesn’t it touch the Atlantic coast?). Domestic inflow was over 200,000 in the Inland Empire, Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Orlando. These are economic dynamos that are driving much of America’s growth. There’s much less economic polarization here than in the Coastal Megalopolises, and a higher percentage of traditional families: Natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) in the Interior Boomtowns is 6%, well above the 4% in the Coastal Megalopolises.
The nation’s center of gravity is shifting: Dallas is now larger than San Francisco, Houston is now larger than Detroit, Atlanta is now larger than Boston, Charlotte is now larger than Milwaukee. State capitals that were just medium-sized cities dominated by government employees in the 1950s — Sacramento, Austin, Raleigh, Nashville, Richmond — are now booming centers of high-tech and other growing private-sector businesses. San Antonio has more domestic than immigrant inflow even though the border is only three hours’ drive away. The Interior Boomtowns generated 38% of the nation’s population growth in 2000-2006….
What about the old Rust Belt, which suffered so in the 1980s?
The six metro areas here — Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Rochester — have lost population since 2000. Their domestic outflow of 4% has been only partially offset by an immigrant inflow of 1%. If the outflow seems smaller than in the 1980s, it’s because so many young people have already left. Natural increase is only 2%, lower than in Orlando or Jacksonville in supposedly elderly Florida. Their economies are ailing, more of a drag on, than an engine for, the nation. They’re not the source of dynamism they were 80 or 100 years ago….
The fourth category is what I call the Static Cities.
These are 18 metropolitan areas with immigrant inflow between zero and 4%, with domestic inflow up to 3% and domestic outflow no higher than 1%. They seem to be holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back. Philadelphia makes the list, and so do Baltimore, Hartford and Providence in the East. Surprisingly, some Western cities that boomed in the 1990s are in this category too: Seattle (the tech bust again), Denver, Portland. In the Midwest, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Columbus and Indianapolis are doing better than their Rust Belt neighbors and make the list.
In the South, Norfolk, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Birmingham are lagging enough behind the Interior Boomtowns to do so. Overall the Static Cities had a domestic inflow of just 18,000 people (.048%) and an immigrant inflow of 2%….Twenty years ago political analysts grasped the implications of the vast movement from Rust Belt to Sun Belt, a tilting of the table on balance toward Republicans; but with California leaning heavily to Democrats, that paradigm seems obsolete. What’s now in store is a shifting of political weight from a small Rust Belt which leans Democratic and from the much larger Coastal Megalopolises, where both secular top earners and immigrant low earners vote heavily Democratic, toward the Interior Megalopolises, where most voters are private-sector religious Republicans but where significant immigrant populations lean to the Democrats. House seats and electoral votes will shift from New York, New Jersey and Illinois to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada; within California, House seats will shift from the Democratic coast to the Republican Inland Empire and Central Valley. I’ve noted before that Houston is one of the few top mega-metros still growing and attracting substantial domestic AND international immigrants, which is part of what makes us such a dynamic, diverse melting pot of opportunity. Really a fascinating time to be here and watch all the change.