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.
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.Comments