Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Revenge of the Places That Don't Matter

This is the phrase of economic geographer Andres Rodriguez-Pose. And it's a compelling way of thinking about recent populist surges. Rodriguez-Pose's basic point is that if you overlay the distribution of lagging or declining areas that increasingly don't seem to matter to a country's prosperity on the distribution of populist voting, these distributions match up quite well. And this is no coincidence: voters in these "don't matter" areas are taking revenge on the elites that don't seem to care about them by powering the emergence of politicians and parties that claim they will redress the balance between areas that matter and those that now don't.

Ronald Brownstein digs into how this dynamic is working out in the United States in a recent column
[I]t is the diverse major metropolitan areas that voted in preponderant numbers against Trump that have clearly emerged as the nation's engines of growth. In the process, the big blue metros have pulled further away from the small town and rural communities that provide the foundation of Trump's support.
The key to this divergence has been the large metro areas' dominance of the job opportunities created by the diffusion of digital technologies, largely in white-collar industries from business consulting to software development. Meanwhile, smaller places remain much more reliant on resource extraction (like oil and gas production), manufacturing and agriculture, which have not grown nearly as reliably, or explosively, as the digital economy.
"We have two quite different economies, and what is happening in recent years is growth is largely emanating from these big county metros," says Mark Muro, director of policy at the Metropolitan Policy Program. "These are not political trends. They are deep economic and technological long waves. And while we are in the midst of this long wave, we are not near the end of it."
In 2016, Clinton won fewer than 500 counties and Trump won more than 2,600. But the counties that Clinton carried accounted for 72% of the nation's increased economic output from 2014 through 2016, the most recent years for which figures are available, according to Brookings. The Clinton counties accounted for 66% of the new job growth over that period as well.
In both output and employment the Clinton counties over that recent period accounted for an even higher percentage of the new growth than they did from 2010 through 2016, the full period of recovery from the financial crash of 2008.
The tilt away from Trump is even more pronounced at the very top of the economic pyramid. Of the 30 counties that generated the largest share of new jobs from 2014 through 2016, Trump carried only two: Collin County (north of Dallas) and Maricopa (Arizona), where Republican-leaning suburbs slightly outvoted a strongly Democratic metro core in Phoenix.
Clinton carried all the other places leading the employment growth list. That included not only such blue state behemoths as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Seattle, but also the economic hubs in purple and even Republican-leaning states, from Miami, Oakland County (outside Detroit), to Mecklenburg (Charlotte) and Wake (Raleigh) counties in North Carolina, and Dallas, Bexar (San Antonio) and Travis counties (Austin) in Texas.
In all, Brookings calculated, Clinton won 79 of the 100 counties that contributed the most to economic growth from 2014 to 2016, and 76 of the 100 that generated the most job growth.
Trump's struggles even in the metro areas of red states underscore how virtually every region of the country is experiencing the same consolidation of economic opportunity into Democratic-leaning urban areas also typically marked by increasing racial diversity.
"The consolidation of economic opportunity". An innocent-sounding phrase, but one that is currently having a huge effect on our politics and social fabric. Brookings has more data on just how bad these disparities are becoming:
[T]he data…show a truly eye-popping divergence of big-, medium-, small-sized communities’ growth progress—one that’s getting worse. On population growth, for example, the 53 very largest metro areas (those with populations over one million residents) have accounted for fully 93.3 percent of the nation’s population growth since the crisis, but an incredible 96.4 percent of it since 2014 (though they account for just 56 percent of the overall population). Even more significantly, the biggest metros generated fully two-thirds of output growth on the economic front and 73 percent of employment gains between 2010 and 2016—figures that actually have increased since 2014, when they reached nearly 72 and 74 percent.
By contrast, smaller metropolitan areas with less than 250,000 people—representing 9 percent of the nation’s population—have lost ground. Since 2010, in fact, these communities made a negative contribution of -6.5 percent to the nation’s growth, with their contribution ticking up modestly in the last two years and their output and employment growth contributions declining to less than 3 percent and 5 percent of the national total, respectively. As for the rural tier [14 percent of the population], the trends have been even worse. By the 2014 to 2016 period, rural communities’ contribution to national population growth had turned negative and the ebbing of the earlier oil and gas boom saw output and employment growth decline precipitously as a share of national gains.
These trends suggest that economic trends left to themselves are not likely to make voters in places that don't matter feel like they do. The great challenge for the Democrats is to reverse that perception and convince voters economic opportunity can be distributed more equally. It is either that or "the revenge of the places that don't matter" will continue. 

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