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demographic transformation
The Next Wave of Suburbanization?

The idea of the early-professional twenty-something urban millennial liberal sharing an apartment in an expensive urban area has become central to our cultural understanding of American cities in the years since the financial crisis. But as the economy recovers and energy prices go down and the older cohort of millennials starts to get married in larger numbers, residential patterns may change significantly, with important consequences for America’s politics and geography. The New York Times reports :

Millennials are generally considered to be those born between the early 1980s and late 1990s or early 2000s, and many in this generation are aging from their 20s into the more traditionally suburban child-raising years. There are already some signs that the inflow of young professionals into cities has reached its peak, and that the outflow of mid-30s couples to the suburbs has resumed after stalling during the Great Recession. […]

The debate is full of contours and caveats, but it really boils down to this: Are large numbers of millennials really so enamored with city living that they will age and raise families inside the urban core, or will many of them, like earlier generations, eventually head to the suburbs in search of bigger homes and better school districts?

As WRM noted last month, America has experienced two major waves of suburbanization in the past century. The first took place during the post-World War II economic boom, supported by new mortgage financing and infrastructure programs. This wave came to a halt during the energy and inflation crises of the 1970s, when homeownership seemed more elusive and urban living once again seemed to be the way of the future. But suburbanization restarted in a big way during the 1980s, when “the Baby Boom generation, as leftist and disillusioned in the 1970s as Millennials are today, moved en masse to the burbs, started families, and grew more stable and conservative in their habits as they watched their equity grow.”

The end of the millennial urban boom would be significant for two reasons. First, the labor-intensive projects required to support it—federally-funded highways and schools, plus large-scale privately-funded home construction—would be a boon to the working class that has been battered by the last generation of globalization and de-industrialization.

Second, changing demographics can yield changing politics. Homeowners tend to be more conservative than renters; the demands of family life, property taxes, and participation in the local community tend to make people more averse to radical social change. Millennials just might follow in the path of the Boomers and move right politically as they grow older and leave deep-blue city centers. The fabled “Emerging Democratic Majority” is composed of a number of identity groups, young urban singles chief among them. If this group starts to fade and join the more centrist constituency of suburban homeowners, it could send powerful ripples through the American political system.

It is in the interest of Republicans—both the Trump administration and GOP state legislatures—to work on de-regulation and infrastructure reforms that can facilitate this process. Not only would it help the blue collar workers that are a core GOP constituency and deliver economic benefits to spacious and inexpensive red states; it would also help form the demographic basis for enduring Republican political power.

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  • seattleoutcast

    Because of the excessive bloviating on Millennials for the past ten years by boomers, many people don’t realize that this so-called urbanization is a non-story. Every generation for at least the past 50 years has seen 20 somethings move to the city. The boomers did it, the X-ers did it and the Millennials did it. You might remember a book and movie called Bright Lights, Big City. Later on, they move to the suburbs.

    Let’s stop obsessing over Millennials (a name coined by Neil Howe for his generational theory, btw.) I know, I know, they’re the children of boomers and boomers still run the media, but enough already.

  • Beauceron

    Did anyone read the fascinating article in Politico over the weekend about a similar issue.

    Titled, “What Do You Do if a Red State Moves to You?” it’s actually about a bunch of Leftists who moved from urban centers like Madison into a rural town in Wisconsin town because they liked the area and their anger and disgust that their neighbors voted for Trump and turned Wisconsin red. They are just self-aware enough to admit that the snotty arrogance with which they treated their neighbors, might have angered them.

    Interesting, if (as most of what appears at Politico), annoying article. It’s worth wading through the typical lefty pap Politico always serves up to get to the meat of the piece.

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/blue-red-state-democrats-trump-country-214647

    “The fabled “Emerging Democratic Majority” is composed of a number of identity groups, young urban singles chief among them. If this group starts to fade and join the more centrist constituency of suburban homeowners, it could send powerful ripples through the American political system.”
    This is simply not true. As the demographics change, the Left won’t need any white voters, urban or otherwise.

    • Disappeared4x

      Yes, I did. It was about Pepin County, WI, just east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. The only thing the two areas have in common is good beer. The ‘hipsters with goats’ probably wanted to get closer to the Leinenkugel Brewery in Chippewa Falls, WI.

      Reminded me of where I lived for two years for my first real job, on the shores of Lake Winnebago, in 1975. When Leinenkugel’s was the best…and the Sunday NYT arrived on the Tuesday bus to the adjacent college town.

      As to the predictions in this post? We’ll see. Millennials who want to buy a suburban home better have Boomer parents who remembered to get rich in the 1990’s. And a tattoo eraser.

    • CapitalistRoader

      This was the money quote of that article:

      Pepin County at first glance doesn’t seem like much of a microcosm of America—it’s 98 percent white,

      So all those progressives are fleeing 63% white Minneapolis to go to a place that’s even whiter than Sweden or Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, all of which are flat out lily white.

      Typical. Progressives love to talk about how they embrace racial diversity but tend to flee from brown people at the first opportunity.

  • rheddles

    In addition to the suburbanization (parentalization) of Millennials, another demographic change which will devastate the Emerging Democrat Majority hypothesis is the Republicanizing of Hispanics as later generations move from the barrio to the suburbs. I am old enough to remember when Italians were a solid Democrat bloc and frequently disparaged. Look at them now, when you can find them as a group. They’re on the Supreme Court, leading the conservatives. They’ve fully integrated into America and have the same diverse political allegiances as other Americans. The Democrats can only import so many victims. And if Trump changes the immigration law to attach a green card to the diploma of every foreign national who graduates from an American college, watch out.

  • Ah, poor Ruy. He’s down, muy muy.

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