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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