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Blue Model Blues
Families Flee Big Cities

Married people are being driven from America’s largest urban areas by unaffordable housing costs and poor quality schools, leading to increasingly child-free cities and a growing concentration of families in the suburbs, according to a new report from Joel Kotkin in RealClearPolitics:

Much is made, and rightfully so, about the future trends of America’s demographics, notably the rise of racial minorities and singles as a growing part of our population. Yet far less attention is paid to a factor that will also shape future decades: where families are most likely to settle.

However hip and cool San Francisco, Manhattan, Boston or coastal California may seem, they are not where families are moving.

In a new study by the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy, we found that the best cities for middle-class families tend to be located outside the largest metropolitan areas. This was based on such factors as housing affordability, migration, income growth, commute times, and middle-income jobs. Many of our best-rated cities tend to mid-sized. The three most highly rated were Des Moines, Iowa, Madison, Wis., and Albany, N.Y., all with populations of less than 1 million. […]

The desire for affordable, single-family homes is driving this trend. Over 80 percent of married couples live in such housing, compared to barely 50 percent of households of unrelated individuals and single [people].

Prohibitive housing costs are in large part a policy choice made by the political machines that control America’s big cities. Land use regulations, rent control, union monopolies on construction, and other blue policies all drive up the cost of housing, making places like San Francisco unaffordable, especially for families that need more space and have the added cost of raising children.

As we’ve written before, these policies contribute to inequality, favoring people who already own homes in highly regulated areas, at the expense of striving middle class families trying to break into the market. They might also contribute to political gridlock: Married people with children are much more likely to vote Republican than single individuals. If tight housing regulations push those families outside of major metropolitan areas while the young and single stay inside, then Congressional districts (and state legislative districts) will become increasingly polarized.

Most discussions of inequality and polarization take place on a national level. But as Kotkin’s findings suggest, these problems may also be affected by state and local housing policies, which determine, to an extent, how America’s population (and its wealth) is geographically distributed. It’s time for Big Blue to rethink some of its assumptions if it really wants to tackle these problems.

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  • Pait

    Well… again, in Brookline, Massachusetts, a very urban town almost inside Boston, the main problem is too many children in the schools. Things may be different in other places, but I don’t much trust the claim about child-free cities.

    • Jim__L

      Silicon Valley matches this description to a “T”.

      Check out the statistics Kotkin’s article quotes. Also, a bit of travel might help your provincial attitudes. Don’t just “fly over”, either.

      • Pait

        I was in Colorado last week. The city town and schools seem to be doing fine. Happened to meet friends from Palo Alto there. Silicon Valley is not urban, so it doesn’t exactly fit the argument in the post, but still, the town and schools there seem to be doing fine as well.

        No, I didn’t conduct a detailed study, but then, picking and choosing statistics you can prove anything you want – it’s a law of statistics 😉

        • Dale Fayda

          Yes, you’re right – American middle class families are just streaming into the large urban centers, with their children in tow, happy to compete for the privilege of paying $2,000 – $3,000 for a 2br. apartment. All the statistics cited in this article are just an elaborate ruse to cast politically motivated aspersions on the family-friendly havens that are NYC, LA, SF, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc. All that long-term statistical nonsense pales in degree of objectivity to your anecdotal experience in Brookline, MA (not a large city) and a few days spent in CO.

          And “denial” is a river in Egypt…

          • Andrew Allison

            This (our agreement) has got to stop — people will start to talk [grin]

          • Dale Fayda

            This is not a contest in one-upsmanship for me, Andrew. I can readily recall many of your comments with which I’ve agreed.

          • Pait

            On the contrary, your argument does read like a nonsensical gotcha game. 50 years ago is when the movement towards the suburbs was at its maximum. Seeing license plates is not meaningful data, people who move have to change them, and in any case the post is about urban x suburban, not CA x CO “Denver is pretty suburban” is not a rational argument.

            I could go on and on, so let’s just agree that you won the game. You’ll be happy and it is good manners to let the troll have the last word. Good bye.

          • Dale Fayda

            A liberal in nutshell – patronizing and condescending. Good day to you as well,

          • Andrew Allison

            I know, and likewise — I was just teasing you.

          • Pait

            Cities are so crowded no one goes there anymore. Rents are so expensive that fewer and fewer people want to live there. Yeah, yeah. I suppose that high rents have nothing to do with market conditions, and don’t reflect shifting preferences?

            Look, starting in the 1950s there was a movement of families toward suburbs. Families in particular could get more and better space outside cities, in places that became more accessible thanks to easier transportation. This movement seems to be largely completed, and to some extent it is being reversed, as the balance of advantages and disadvantages of suburban life becomes more apparent.

            As for the statistics, each city has a different story. Metropolitan urban areas that are becoming more sought after include Boston, Denver, and perhaps Northern California, which is why I mentioned them. Detroit is obviously the opposite extreme. If you mix them together, then pick and choose, you get whatever result you want.

          • Dale Fayda

            San Francisco, a city of over 870K people, now has more dogs than children. Fact: There are only just over 100K kids in that city – do you think that was the case 40 – 50 years ago? If not, why such a small percentage of children, especially among a population which can by and large afford to have them?

            Denver is pretty suburban and still WAY less expensive than LA or SF – look anywhere in CO and you’ll see CA license plates. I’ve listed a whole string of major cities which have lost population (especially middle class families) in the recent decades and I can put another dozen or so next to that – you’ve listed Boston, Denver and “Northern California”, which is not a city. Whose case has more credibility – yours or mine?

    • Dungeonmaster Jim

      Brookline may be surrounded on three sides by Boston, but it is not Boston. It’s even a different county. And it does not suffer the urban pathologies of Boston, especially in its school system.

      • Pait

        That is unrelated to the point under discussion, which is the statement that families with children are being driven out from urban areas.

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