In America, Cities Are Increasingly for the Rich

Welcome to the city! Pay me.

Welcome to the city! Pay me.

Sometimes you bump into two news pieces that seem as though they’re the flip side of one story. Today was one of those days for me. First, I read this Atlantic piece by Derek Thompson about how people moving to cities are white, child-free, wealthy, and in their 20s and 30s:

If the U.S. is returning to any previous period, it’s looking like another Gilded Age—one based on geography. The richest 10 percent of households were most likely to move into dense urban areas between 2000 and 2014. The poorest 10 percent fled cities the fastest. Meanwhile, the U.S. is becoming much more urban for the white childless elite, and much more suburban for everybody else. The fastest growing suburbs are the most prototypically suburban: They have the lowest density, the greatest need for cars, and the most single-family neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the fastest growing urban areas among this privileged demographic are the most dense—places like Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C.

And then I ran across this Vox story by Soo Oh about how low-income Americans can no longer afford food, transportation, and, most importantly, housing:

A new Pew Charitable Trusts analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2013, low-income Americans spent a median of $6,897 on housing. In 2014, that rose to $9,178 — the biggest jump in housing spending for the 19-year period of data that Pew studied.

This is why raising the minimum wage to livable levels is important, especially in urban areas: inequality has tipped over to a point where cities have become a battleground between the wealthy few and everyone else. Further, cities are losing diversity and catering to a shrinking pool of high-income spenders. This is antithetical to what a city is: cities, by definition, need lots of people. They cannot be exclusive; cities need lots of people from diverse backgrounds in order to survive and thrive. Right now, poor Americans are being forced out into the suburbs, where transportation is difficult and sparse. By paying them more, we’re helping to bring them—and their newfound spending power—back inside city limits.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.