The geography of inequality

For Quartz, I wrote about the geography of the unequal economic recovery in the US. Coastal cities with thriving economies have become unaffordable for the average worker; heartland cities that are affordable have few jobs, and most Americans cannot afford to move:

In effect, we have two American economies. One is made up of expensive coastal zip codes where the pundits proclaiming “recovery” are surrounded by prosperity. The other is composed of heartland regions where ordinary Americans struggle without jobs. Over 50 million Americans live in what the Economic Innovation Group calls “distressed communities”—zip codes where over 55% of the population is unemployed. Of those distressed communities, over half are in the South, defined generously by the census as the region stretching from Maryland and Delaware to Oklahoma and Texas. The rest tend to live in Midwest rust belt cities that have long suffered from economic decline, like Gary, Indiana and Cleveland, Ohio. It is nearly impossible for Americans of the latter group to move to the cities of the former group—or to work in the industries that shape public perception of how the economy is going.

The result is the populist rage that has consumed the 2016 election, whether from left-leaning supporters of Sanders or right-learning supporters of Trump.

The unequal geographic recovery has put the average American in an impossible situation. Most cities that have thriving economies—coastal cities like New York or San Francisco, for example–have become exorbitantly expensive over the past decade, with rents tripling or even quadrupling, forcing lower-income residents to flee to the exurbs. Cities where rent is cheap—Midwestern cities like St. Louis, Missouri, or Southern cities like Jackson, Mississippihave some of the worst economies in the country, ranking in the bottom ten of Brookings’ 2016 study on 2009-2014 job growth.

Read the whole thing at Quartz

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