Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Houston and The Realignment of America

The Wall Street Journal had a quite long and comprehensive op-ed this morning titled "The Realignment of America" on demographic shifts since 2000 (free 7-day link, subscriber link). While getting the link, I also noted it has been one of the most popular - and the most emailed - stories today at WSJ. The graphic is pretty cool, and makes it look like everybody is headed to Texas (or maybe Arkansas?).

He analyses 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 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 2000-06.

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.

Labels: ,


At 8:46 PM, May 08, 2007, Blogger Justin said...


While the Houston MSA's overall growth has been impressive over the last 6 years, Houston is decisively NOT attracting domestic migrants outside of the Katrina evacuees. In fact, virtually all of the population growth in Houston is from natural increase (births less deaths of people already residing here) and international migration (at least some, and probably much of it in the form of illegal immigration) - see underlying data here: http://www.houston.org/blackfenders/
09AW001.pdf. If you look at the data year by year, you'll see that Houston is not an attractive place for domestic migrants. What does this say about the Houston area's quality of life?


At 8:48 PM, May 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought that according to Klineberg, we weren't attracting substantial domestic immigration. Hasn't he said that most of our pop. growth is international immigration and births?

Strange how this guy makes Chicago a coastal city and Houston an inland city. I guess it's to make his theory work.

That paragraph about Democratic fundraising with its "hors d'ouevres" is a real giveaway as to the political motives behind this article. What do they serve at Republican fundraisers, ham and cheese sandwiches? Maybe the Democrats are more aware of the growing income divide precisely because they see it in their own cities.

At 9:35 PM, May 08, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Domestic migration is definitely the smallest contributor vs. international and natural increase, but it's still positive, as opposed to most other top-10 metros. I also think the oil-driven boom only really kicked in the last 1-2 years, and has attracted quite a few domestic migrants. I see quite a few out-of-state plates everytime I drive anywhere these days. I think the Katrina effect is hiding these new domestic migrants, but they will become more clear in future years.

At 1:15 PM, May 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Michael Barone has no hidden agenda. Actually, he is fairly open that he leans more conservative and the website is part of the Wall Street Journal OpEds which lean conservative.

In the end, regardless the way he leans, the numbers in the article are based upon the last census. Michael has had a long history of analyzing volumes of numerical data and making it easier to understand whether is be census or election results.

At 6:07 PM, May 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't disputing the numbers, I'm just a little unsure about this three category interpretation... seems a bit oversimplified. I'll have to find out more about Michael Barone; I haven't heard his name mentioned before.

At 11:18 PM, May 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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"

The South shall rise again

At 10:14 PM, May 10, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

I'm not disputing the numbers either - I'm disputing the analysis of those numbers by the journalist. To say Houston is attracting lots of domestic migrants outside of Katrina is just not true. And suggesting otherwise leads to people and governments not examining the root causes of Houston's relative lack of attractiveness.

At 3:58 PM, May 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of lack of attractiveness, I have a friend who recently relocated to the Woodlands area from Dallas. He likes the trees we have in Houston, but sometimes wonders if it rains trash here. Says he has never seen more debris lying on roads than when driving Houston's freeways. I've heard anecdotes like this from other people as well. I sometimes wonder if the slovenly appearance of most of our freeways sends a subconscious message that it's okay to toss your trash here, whereas in a city with nicer freeways, people tend to act more responsibly.

The same question could be asked of our graffiti problem.

At 8:10 PM, May 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Mike's comments about trash and graffiti, those are the "broken window" problem that Giuliani identified in NYC early in his term as mayor. Rudy definitely saw a connection between the appearance of the city and the behavior of its inhabitants. Much of his policy was based on the permissive subtext of such an environment.

At 7:58 AM, May 12, 2007, Blogger Adam said...

This article made me think about Prof. Klineberg's comment on the the state demographer's report too.

I think the distinction he wanted to make was between natural increase among folks who would be considered international immigrants and natural increase among other families.

What differences does it make where these new Houstonians come from? I don't ask sarcastically, I'm just wondering.

At 11:12 PM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Klineberg's exact words were "People from Boston and New York are not moving to Houston." The difference it makes is whether we're able to attract people from other American cities, or only from second world countries.


Post a Comment

<< Home