Could COVID Exodus Accelerate Heartland Revival?
Over the past two decades, America’s largest urban areas have experienced an intoxicating renaissance, largely due to the immigration of immigrants, minorities, and youth. But even as a large-city-dominated media body continued to report on gentrification and displacement, these trends have started to reverse in recent years as these three populations have started to continue in numbers. bigger towards suburbs, booming cities and smaller and bigger towns.
This change preceded the COVID pandemic, but quickly accelerated with the expansion of remote working, which undermined the economic base of high-end urban and post-industrial economies. Meanwhile, the severe lockdowns that Democratic governors and mayors have favored devastated the services and small economic enterprises that had provided livelihoods for entrepreneurs and immigrant and minority workers.
The same “canaries in the coal mine” that spurred America’s urban renaissance have been leaving its major cities in increasing numbers since 2014, notes demographer Wendell Cox. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all started to to lose population as people flocked to new employment hubs like Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville who paved the way in terms of new global jobs and high-end jobs in business and professional services.
Nowhere is this change more evident than among immigrants. The share of foreign-born people who settle in large coastal “bridges” fell from 44% in 2010 to just 35% in 2019. Foreign-born populations, Cox notes in the group’s research Reflection Heartland Forward, stagnated or even declined in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago while they jumped in Houston (more than 25% growth), in Dallas-Ft Worth (30%) in Charlotte (nearly 40%) and Nashville (a remarkable 44%).
Houston, in fact, is now the most diverse metropolitan area in the countryside. In 1960, Harris County, which includes Houston and much of its suburbs, was 70% white, non-Hispanic, and 20% African-American. Today, the county’s total population is 31% White and Non-Hispanic, 42% Hispanic, 19% Black, and 8% Asian. The share of Houstonians born abroad is now approaching a quarter of the population, almost double the average of the 50 most populous metros in the country.
Even more surprising was the equally rapid movement of immigrants to smaller towns such as Fayetteville, Ark., Knoxville, Tenn,; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Springfield, Missouri, and Fargo, ND The fastest growth in foreign-born populations has occurred in areas where immigrant concentrations have traditionally been low. Where the foreign-born population has grown 10% nationally over the past few decades, in states like Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and the Dakota, it has grown by 30%.
Racial minorities, too, are moving more and more to sunny booming cities, the south and small towns. Latin, Asian and African American growth spurts are not in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or the Bay Area, according to an analysis by Wendell Cox for the Urban Reform Institute, but in Atlanta, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Again, the economy is a key factor. Job creation for the middle class has generally been stronger in these communities and, due to less regulation and lower taxes, costs are lower. The real incomes of African Americans in Atlanta are over $ 60,000, compared to $ 36,000 in San Francisco and $ 37,000 in Los Angeles. The median income of Latinos in Virginia Beach-Norfolk is $ 69,000, compared to $ 43,000 in Los Angeles, $ 47,000 in San Francisco, and $ 40,000 in New York. The highest median Asian household incomes are found in Raleigh, Jackson, Fayetteville (AR-MO) and Austin.
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Joel Kotkin is the author of The rise of neo-feudalism: a warning to the global middle class. He is Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director of the Urban Reform Institute. Learn more about joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.