Yet what has not been looked at nearly as much are the underlying conditions that either restrict or enhance upward mobility among racial minorities, including African-Americans, Latinos and Asians. In order to determine this, my colleague at Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism Wendell Cox and I developed a ranking system that included four critical factors: migration patterns, home ownership, self-employment and income.
Kotkin and Cox find that 13 of the top 15 cities for African Americans are in the South. The other two are DC and Baltimore.
What accounts for this? Well, in Washington and Baltimore, the obvious answer is the federal government. Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, and are far more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics. These are not the people who rioted in the inner city; most of them live in prosperous suburbs surrounding these cities. But outside the Beltway region, the explanations tend towards more basic economics, like job creation, low housing prices and better opportunities for starting businesses.The conclusion is that generous welfare programs may ease poverty but do little for opportunity.
Ultimately what really matters are the economics of opportunity. Many of the cities that scored best for all three groups -- the Washington, D.C. area, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin -- have enjoyed stronger than normal economic growth over the past decade. In the areas around the nation’s capital, government employment has been a critical factor; in the other areas more generalized business growth has taken the lead. In contrast, notes University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill , many regions that have seen rapid de-industrialization and slow housing growth have developed “barbell” economies based on a combination of ultra-high-wage industries, like technology and finance, and low-end service jobs.
There are other policy implications. Blue state progressives are often the most vocal about expanding opportunities for minority homeownership but generally support land use and regulatory policies, notably in California, that tend to raise prices far above the ability of newcomers -- immigrants, minorities, young people -- to pay. Similarly blue state support for such things as strict climate change regulation tends to discourage the growth of industries such as manufacturing, logistics and home construction that have long been gateways for minority success.