Quote of the day: Blowing up the "hip city" narrative

Between 2006 and 2008, the metropolitan areas that enjoyed the fastest percentage shift toward educated and professional workers and industries included nominally “unhip” places like Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, Fla., Tampa, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo.

The overall migration numbers are even more revealing. As was the case for much of the past decade, the biggest gainers continue to include cities such as San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Rather than being oases for migrants, some oft-cited magnets such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago have all suffered considerable loss of population to other regions over the past year.

…More important, the key group leaving New York and other so-called “youth-magnets” comprises the middle class, particularly families, critical to any long-term urban revival. This year’s Census shows that the number of single households in New York has reached record levels; in Manhattan, more than half of all households are singles. And the Urban Future report’s analysis found that even well-heeled Manhattanites with children tend to leave once they reach the age of 5 or above.

The key factor here may well be economic opportunity. Virtually all the supposedly top-ranked cities cited in this media narrative have suffered below-average job growth throughout the decade. Some, like Portland and New York, have added almost no new jobs; others like San Francisco, Boston and Chicago have actually lost positions over the past decade.

In contrast, even after the current doldrums, San Antonio, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix all boast at least 5% more jobs now than a decade ago. Among the large-narrative magnet regions only one–government-bloated greater Washington–has enjoyed strong employment growth.

The impact of job growth on the middle class has been profound. New York City, for example, has the smallest share of middle-income families in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institution study; its proportion of middle-income neighborhoods was smaller than that of any metropolitan area except Los Angeles.The same pattern has also emerged in what has become widely touted as America’s “model city” — President Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago.

Joel Kotkin, editor of NewGeography.com, in a new story about migration and employment growth in 29 metropolitan areas. The numbers, he says, do not support claims made in recent The Wall Street Journal and Atlantic Monthly articles, both of which predicted a movement of people and businesses to high-density, “youth magnet” cities.

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