Quality Of Life

In a post a few days ago, I considered the GOP’s current definition of “crime”–noting that, to Republicans,  breaking federal rules is no longer criminal, and locally, “crime” only happens in Blue cities and states.

It’s another example of the widening perceptual gap between urban and rural Americans. City folks are increasingly Democratic; rural inhabitants increasingly Republican/MAGA.

Ideally, the decision where to live wouldn’t be viewed as political. Some people like owning tracts of land and being close to nature; others (like your truly) appreciate the energy generated by density and diversity. It is–or should be– simply a matter of individual preference.

Of course, it’s never that simple. Public policies matter.

There are measurable reasons that some places in America attract people, while others are emptying out. (Ironically, Red state culture war policies inflict the most damage on rural areas where residents are most supportive of those policies– anti-abortion laws have accelerated the departure of all doctors, not just ob-gyn practitioners, and educational vouchers hurt public schools in rural areas where thin population cannot support private alternatives).

For those who have a choice, the decision where to live often depends upon the perceived “quality of life,” an assessment of the amenities that make a city or state attractive to a majority of potential businesses and individuals.

Michael Hicks recently shared what the data tells us about that question.

Hicks began by noting that most of Indiana (and the Midwest generally)  is in economic decline. Projections are that more than 50 Hoosier counties will experience a declining population through 2060.

A dozen counties will be projected to grow faster than the nation through 2060. The remaining 30 or so will be projected to grow more slowly than the national rate—a pattern known as relative decline. Indiana and the Midwest will still be prosperous, in a global sense. But, relative to most of the nation, the coming decades will see us slipping farther away from the nation.

Research has identified the characteristics of places that do continue to attract residents.

Growing places almost always have most of the same positive attributes. Their schools are good and attractive to families, they are safe, their residents are better educated than average, and they have growing housing stock with good public infrastructure. Growing places enjoy recreational options, both private and public. And, there are few barriers to employment or starting a business, such as restrictive occupational licensing or heavy regulatory burdens

Research tells us that–duh!– when people aren’t moving to an area, it’s because they don’t wish to live there.

The primary reason people don’t wish to live in a place is that it doesn’t have the neighborhoods they want. The reasons for not moving to a place are as varied as human interests. But, for the median family, the common factors are that schools aren’t sufficiently good, crime is too high or infrastructure is too decayed.

That research also tells us that policymankers’ preferred emphasis on “economic development”–luring businesses–is misplaced. As Hicks notes,

No matter how successful a community is at luring new factories and warehouses, unless you can attract their highly paid workers to your town, it will have no lasting effect. If your business attraction efforts make your community less desirable for people, it will actually weaken your local economy. It is a costly business with inherent risks.

In the post-COVID world, people are increasingly mobile, making business attraction less important. Here there is some new policies. Some places are trying to attract remote workers through financial incentives. It is possible someone will figure out a magic incentive. However, the evidence I’ve seen suggests that fundamental conditions such as good schools, safe neighborhoods and recreational opportunities trump financial incentives every time.

Hicks stresses the importance of local government. I absolutely agree–in theory. Unfortunately, in Indiana, municipal governments are severely constrained by our retrograde state legislature.

In Indiana, cities and towns don’t have anything remotely like home rule: It took three legislative sessions to get permission to vote on a local tax to fund adequate transit. When Bloomington tried to ban plastic grocery bags, the legislature passed a bill divesting local governments of authority to do so. Education policies are dictated by a General Assembly determined to privatize public education. For years, dollars for street repair have been doled out based on “lane miles,” irrespective of the difference in traffic counts/wear and tear–a lane on a little-used county road gets funded the same as a lane on a traffic-choked Indianapolis thoroughfare. And efforts to address the number of guns on city streets run headlong into the resistance of “Second Amendment” fanatics in the Statehouse.

Those few among our legislative overlords who understand what Hicks is saying don’t care.


  1. It’s interesting to note that in this morning’s Denver Post, the city has experienced the highest rate of increase in rent. Since 2019, Denver’s rent has increased by 82%. Desirable place to live? Not bad. But we also have many, many cars stolen – among the most in the nation’s big cities. The infrastructure is constantly under repair as most of the main city streets have cones and trenchers hard at work. The city’s new bird is the construction crane as MORE apartment buildings and condos are being built.

    All that said, the real estate market in Denver has fallen by 25% over the last year. It’s complicated, but I still wonder why any sentient being would live where they don’t want to live. I sometimes dream of moving back to Texas so I could vote against all the idiot-level, corrupt Republicans there.

  2. Your last sentence perfectly sums up how our rabidly radical right wing legislative overlords choose to send Indiana on a downward spiral.

  3. I think that migration due to climate change is another factor worth considering. Extreme heat and storms are already driving some of my acquaintances to reconsider where they want to live. Repeated floods, drought and wildfires in other places may make Indiana and the rest of the Great Lakes region more attractive. I know I’m glad I didn’t move to Arizona or Florida when I retired.

  4. I took the areas Sheila discusses into consideration when moving from Naples, Florida, to Bloomington, Indiana; but without children in school and absent any interest in some of the other areas she cited I centered on leaving Florida because the state is governed by a fascist, one Ron DeSantis. This budding Mussolini is ramrodding his way into the areas she discussed, like tenure in the state’s university system, political rewriting of the schools’ curriculum, don’t say gay etc. I call him Herr DeFascist; the reference to Mussolini is throwing a bone to his background; he more nearly resembles the arsonist of the Reichstag.

    Having been involved in WW II in the fight against fascism, I will not live under fascist rule, and should he or Trump be elected, I will move again and already have such an ex-pat change of venue narrowed down to either Portugal or Costa Rica, though I remain open to other such countries who chose sanity and democracy over the chaos of fascism.

  5. I’ve seen studies in the past about why people move the east and west coast despite the high taxes. It turns out you get what you pay for. People like smooth roads, good schools, and well functioning government. Businesses will often make the same calculation that despite the higher costs, they have better long term prospects of growing and thriving when they have all the benefits that the higher taxes bring.

    As you have mentioned the state legislature has been openly hostile to the very cities that drive most of the states GDP. Indianapolis alone counts for 25% of that number. The 9 metro counties 50% of that number, yet the state legislature continues to poop on anything that might give Indianapolis (or Ft Wayne, or Evansville, or Gary, etc…) a leg up.

    I had thought of our current mayor as competent, but with no real vision for the city, but with the recent influx of federal dollars, he starting paving streets like crazy and has announced some pretty neat infrastructure plans, like converting one way streets to two way streets. But what is more amazing to me, is he openly lobbying for changes in the state road funding formula you mentioned and he might actually succeed. He has pointed out how much road funding the donut counties loose in the lopsided road funding scheme, and that might persuade some of those Republican politicians in the surrounding counties to action. Carmel might have beautiful shiny streets now, but as growth stabilizes and the state underfunding continues, they will look like indianapolis in another 20 or 30 years.

  6. How long will it be before Indiana loses another Congressional seat because of declining population?
    Women in rural communities in many areas of the state are finding themselves in serious jeopardy when they need medical health care.
    Schools are closing when charters and vouchers make it impossible for public schools to operate, especially in rural districts. Planning, teacher recruitment and funding for infrastructure decline based on enrollment. It is by design, all under the guise of “choice”, when it is really about re-segregation.
    Prof. Kennedy has been beating this drum for years to no apparent avail. Indiana is one of the worst places to live if you are a young female, especially one of color. The quality of life here has declined for decades as de-regulation and gerrymander provided the corporations the ability to degrade and pollute the physical environment. That is to say nothing about the same corporations buying the state and local political process to make sure that they have trained workers on the taxpayers’ dime.
    By just about every metric measuring quality of life, Indiana continues to occupy the bottom along with places like Mississippi.
    I feel so sorry for those without the means to leave. Young people in poverty have almost no chance to pursue happiness here. Is it any wonder our college graduates leave every year? They get out while they can.
    Where does that leave the rest of us? Who are the leaders of tomorrow likely to be? Opportunists willing to do whatever it takes? The graduates who have been sold on the idea that education is job training? What happens when those jobs become obsolete?
    It is a puzzle.

  7. Sharon mentions climate change migration. I saw a study that says about a 200 mile radius around Madison WS will be the best area to be protected from drought, wild fires, extreme heat, and rising sea levels. Not immune, but fare the best. I hope I’m wrong, but I think Florida will see its economy crash as heat and sea level rise make the costal areas uninhabitable. I saw a recent article about Charleston and how they are having to deal with sea level rise, but in the same breath denying climate change.

  8. Egocentric troglodyte that I am, I don’t buy into the trendy fashion of economic thinking now focused on “the quality of life.” The decline in population of many counties (of which I’ve written often in my column “Eye on the Pie, available without charge) has more to do with the decline of relative economic opportunity than the decline of amenities included in “quality of life.”
    And what is behind all of this, something even economists (myself of course excluded) don’t discuss: economies of scale and scope. Walmart can sell for less than the local grocery, hardware, clothing, drug stores. And if you can’t make a decent living in a place, you’ll be inclined to move to a place that you can do so. (Retirees are footloose and can move where they wish if their portable income is sufficient.)
    To coin a phrase, “It’s the economy, social sage!”

  9. JD – thanks for your comment that covers the same thoughts and concerns I have.

  10. Morton hit the nail on the head. It always comes down to the economy. The amenities only come after the people do. Admittedly, they add to the attractiveness of any location, but you don’t find them in areas that can’t support them with butts in the seats. Empty theaters don’t attract people.

  11. “It took three legislative sessions to get permission to vote on a local tax to fund adequate transit.”

    Our state has had to step in because our Indy politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, have proven themselves terribly irresponsible when it comes to raising taxes and fees. Whenever given a chance to raise taxes and fees to a certain level, Indy’s pols always max it out. As a result, Indy has the highest local taxes/fees in the state. Talk about a disincentive to live in Indy? And don’t get me started with the reckless corporate welfare this city’s pols hand out. I am baffled why people on the left never seem to want to address this issue when it comes to Indy politics. They’ll talk about schools not being adequately funded, roads not being kept up, etc., but their focus is always on raising more taxes/fees. Don’t people on the left know it’s a zero sum game? When we’re taking about handing over millions of dollars in property taxes to Angie’s List or Simons or Irsay, that’s less money for basic services that people need.

    And I have to address the bus system expansion. The tax increase to expand the bus system has turned out to be a colossal failure. The Redline has really messed up commerce and traffic on College Avenue (why wasn’t it run up Keystone??) and ridership has been dismal. Ridership has been so bad on the Redline, they don’t enforce the requirement that riders pay. Got to keep those ridership numbers up! And the westside Blueline would eliminate traffic lanes, making a congested road more congested with just two lanes. When you take traffic lanes away to make dedicated lanes for buses, that few people are riding, you create more traffic congestion which is not good for the environment.

    We don’t have a good bus system in Indianapolis for the simple fact that Indy does not have density of population. (Mass transit works best where there is population density.) Indy is the second least population dense city in the United States, exceeded only by Jacksonville, Florida. Nonetheless, we could have a much better bus system if they would do something beyond throwing money at the system. Indy takes an antiquated approach to mass transit, employing a hub and spoke bus system designed to transport white collar workers from outer part of Indy to downtown to work in big office buildings and home at night. Fewer people are having to commute for these jobs. Many can work from home multiple days of the week. They don’t need the bus system.

    The people who desperately need public transportation in Indy are the blue collar workers who can’t work remotely and instead work in the factories and warehouses, almost all of which are located in the outer part of Marion County. You might have an Amazon warehouse worker living in Lawrence who needs to get to his job on the westside of Indy. You think he can take the bus system? Yeah, if he wants to spend as much as two hours on the bus, riding downtown and then out to the west side.

    Our bus system does not help out these blue collar workers, not because we’re throwing enough money at mass transit, but because of our poorly designed bus system. We need point-to-point public transportation that meets the needs of the population. Instead we designed a bus system that we hope will create demand. Our approach to mass transit is “build-it-and-they-will-come” which just doesn’t work.

    Sorry…just not convinced of the wisdom of Indy’s politicians.

  12. You know, procrastination is a major enemy of civilization.

    About 30 years ago, some of us wrote a paper about drought-proofing this country, and others, that were stricken with famine because of drought. Technology is much better today. Desalinization facilities that could produce billions of gallons of water could be set along coastal regions. Of course, as the ice cap melts, the fresh water disturbs the ocean currents which actually make the weather patterns more unpredictable and More damaging.

    Desalinization plants produce a lot of salt, but that salt could be put back into the ocean in areas where the ice cap is melting to continue the appropriate salinity of the oceans. That way the ocean currents could continue all the while science is working to control greenhouse gases and eliminate their production.

    With enough water, you could regreen deserts, they could be productive land mass again. Food production would drastically increase, the weather patterns would be much more amiable for agrarian production.

    But alas, greed, ignorance, intolerance, in fighting, paralytic dogmas by governments and corporations, hastens the demise of human civilization.

    Interestingly, science has stated that there is more water under the crust of this earth than there is on its surface. Under the Atlantic Ocean, there is an ocean of fresh water. So, there’s that! It kind of verifies what scripture says about the wellsprings of the earth gushed forth its water. But that’s for another thread.

    When your house is on fire, do you just keep moving from room to room? Or do you attempt to put it out? Or do you try to escape. Putting it out would be the best option, because if you escape that house, with your life, the house is gone. On a grander scale, when the Earth is on fire, you keep moving from state to state or region to region or country to country? It’s all connected! Just like a house, eventually immolation Will cure the problem. The infestation of ignorance will be the demise of humanity, no matter left, right, spot, stripe, color!

    It’s evident, that when the most important event on the planet is to supply a country with weapons, wow people are getting ready to die in a 5-year long drought and Somalia. And Die in droves, Do the superior authorities notice? Well sure they notice, they just don’t care. Tens of billions of dollars, plus rebuilding a country, while people die of thirst, babies that didn’t ask to be born, starving to death and dying horrible deaths because war is always the answer.

    Instead of redeveloping the inner cities, they get walled off and ghettoized. People are trapped in a food and opportunity desert!

    And past millennia, people could get away with this sort of thing. People could move to a better area, they could migrate to another continent! But now, there really is no place to go. So they start talking about other planets, lol! Humanity is so stupid you couldn’t make it up if you wanted to. Did Nero really fiddle as Rome burned? It definitely is not beyond the realm of belief considering what we see everyday.

  13. In Indiana and many other states there is only real “quality of life” for the top 10% of the wealthiest citizens, the rest of us working class stiffs are screwed…I’m a nurse making a decent income and my wife is now retired but we can’t even afford to move away from a racist neighbor who has been harassing us since the Obama years, and it’s only gotten worse since tRump attempted to overthrow the govt. Our house might be worth more but we can’t buy a comparable house in a comparable neighborhood, how effed up is that? We finally decided to buy a lovely little casita in the mountains of Costa Rica last year and we will be living there full time before the 2024 US elections when the fascists attempt their right wing coup again!

  14. Where are people moving from? CA, NY, MA….why? – high taxes, expensive housing….

    Where are people moving to? TX, FL… why? low/no taxes, cheaper housine

    It’s the economy….

  15. Kind of sad, but not surprising, that for some on this blog the only reason anyone would move away from Indiana was for economic reasons. For the Pauls and the Lesters out there economic reasons are the only motive to leave, but not for all. And Florida and Texas are not the destinations of choice for anyone with a conscience, a moral backbone, and a desire to be free. Ob Gyns are not fleeing to Florida or Texas. The same for other doctors who put their medical ideals first. And the gays, lesbians, and trans people who are packing up and leaving as fast as possible are all heading for one of the coasts. And they are not going to Florida or Texas. And regular people of moral standing, people who see what the state government is doing to others and want no part of it are not going to red states. In fact many are just leaving the country period. No fellas, it isn’t the economy. Its FREEDOM!

  16. There’s a lot of tent cities within those blue cities. Paul Ogden is correct about the pols and Indy’s bus system.

  17. Paul, you’re confident that the folks in the Statehouse are wiser and more attuned to the needs of Indianapolis. And, their voters are wiser and more attuned to the needs of Indianapolis. I call B.S.

    You mention the population density of Indianapolis as a factor and it is. If you look at the old
    pre-Unigov city, I think you’d feel differently. Or, what the state opted to do 60 years ago when thousands of homes and businesses were razed to build the inner loop which runs adjacent to my home, removing population and density from the central city.

  18. Dan, you might consider putting Panama on your list. A cyber-friend has just this month moved there, where there are a lot of
    ex-pat Americans. Living in Fl. I feel both too close to the new Hitler we have for a gov’r, and somewhat protected from his imbecilities
    because I am a retiree, in a fully paid for condo, though there is, of course, the monthly fee. I’m not particularly near any shore, yet, but,
    we do have ideas of escape should TFG, or DeFascist become pres.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am only livid about DeFascist’s high jinks.
    It is said that 900 people move to Fl. per week, some because they LIKE this clown!

  19. If you want to know about Indy metro, you have to go back to the post WWII era, when General Motors bought the system. There were electric cars running on each route, hitting every stop every20 minutes. If you understand that GM didn’t want electric cars, you can guess what happened. The good people of Indy paid for brand new gas guzzling buses. GM bankrupted the company and left Indy riders high and dry. It was a death blow. What’s good for General Motors is good for the country, right?

  20. Vernon: Don’t bother moving back to Texas. Two of my unenlightened friends have recently moved to Texas, so you are outvoted already. (And recently being in Texas is akin to burning in hell.)

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