Until the 1970s, cities were centers of production, distribution and administration. Then the industrial base of urban areas, and related jobs such as logistics, began moving away from the traditional manufacturing cities to overseas, the suburbs or the Southeast. In 1950 New York, according to economic historian Fernand Braudel, 1 million people worked in factories, mostly for small companies. Today the city’s industrial workforce now stands at a paltry 73,000, a dramatic decline from some 400,000 as recently as the early 1980s.
A similar, if less spectacular, decline has taken place in what are still the two largest industrial metropolitan statistical areas, Chicago and Los Angeles. The one-time “City of Big Shoulders” and its environs had 461,600 industrial jobs in 2009. Today it has fewer than 300,000. Los Angeles, in a process that started with the end of the Cold War, has seen its once-diverse industrial base erode rapidly, from 900,000 just a decade ago to 364,000 today.
In some cities, a new economy has emerged, one that is largely transactional and oriented to media. The upshot is that denizens of the various social media, fashion and big data firms have little appreciation of the difficulties faced by those who build their products, create their energy and food. Unlike the factory or port economies of the past, the new “creative” economy has little meaningful interaction with the working class, even as it claims to speak for that group.
This urban economy has created many of the most unequal places in the country. At the top are the rich and super-affluent who have rediscovered the blessings of urbanity, followed by a large cadre of young and middle-aged professionals, many of them childless. Often ignored, except after sensationalized police shootings, is a vast impoverished class that has become ever-more concentrated in particular neighborhoods.
During the first decade of the current millennium, neighborhoods with entrenched urban poverty actually grew, increasing in numbers from 1,100 to 3,100. In population, they grew from 2 million to 4 million.Some 80 percent of all population growth in American cities, since 2000, notes demographer Wendell Cox, came from these poorer people, many of them recent immigrants.
Such social imbalances are not, as is the favored term among the trendy, sustainable. We appear to be creating the conditions for a new wave of violent crime on a scale not seen since the early 1990s. Along with poverty, public disorderliness, gang activity, homelessness and homicides are on the rise in manyAmerican core cities, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and New York. Racial tensions, particularly with the police, have worsened. So even as left-leaning politicians try to rein in police, recent IRS data in Chicago reveals, the middle class appears to once again be leaving for suburban and other locales.