Suburbs: The New Slums
Any good student of dialectics knew this was coming. A new report on demographic trends shows that the suburbs are slowly but surely becoming what they were expressly designed not to be: the home of the disadvantaged.
Of course one could say as an opening joke that growing up in the suburbs would be a disadvantage for anyone. But now, demographics are following what common sense has long indicated. A new Brookings Institute analysis of census data shows that the era of white flight from urban areas that turned suburbs into the traditional rings of affluence around poorer cities is, for the most part, over.
Suburbs still tilt white. But, for the first time, a majority of all racial and ethnic groups in large metro areas live outside the city. Suburban Asians and Hispanics already had topped 50 percent in 2000, and blacks joined them by 2008, rising from 43 percent in those eight years.
The suburbs now have the largest poor population in the country. They are home to the vast majority of baby boomers age 55 to 64, a fast-growing group that will strain social services after the first wave of boomers turns 65 next year.
The smartest, most educated young suburbanites are fleeing for big cities. Naturally. Didn't you? They're leaving behind their parents, who make up that hefty chunk of soon-to-retire boomers. It was inevitable that the suburbs would become more racially integrated, albeit slowly; but economic integration is happening faster than many suburban residents would probably prefer, thanks in part to the real estate market collapse which left lots and lots of suburban cookie-cutter development dream homes available at prices far, far lower than their developers had initially hoped.
So while young, mostly white suburban kids race to the cities and price out the original residents there, many of those urban minorities may find the suburbs to be more inviting and economically viable. Gentrification and degentrification—demographic groups passing each other on the highway into the city, heading in opposite directions. While bright young things head for NYC, LA, Chicago, and San Francisco, the Sun Belt and its massive tracts of sprawl stand ready, willing and able to absorb the displaced, once-urban masses of the working class. It's as if, over the course of a generation, the stereotypical growing-up experiences of White Suburban Americans and Minority Urban Americans will totally trade places. The only difference being that now the cities will get the government money and attention they've always deserved, and the suburbs will slowly wilt into sprawling, neglected slums.
And soon, the cities will take all the water, too. Good luck, new Sun Belt suburbanites. Fill up those bathtubs.