This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Suburban Inequality

This week. Los Angeles is hosting the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers and so when I saw an article in the New York Times about suburban inequality that focuses on Los Angeles, I assumed that it must have been written by geographers. In fact, one of the authors, Andrew Wiese, is a colleague of mine in the History Department here at SDSU. He and his co-author, Becky Nicolaides of UCLA, specialize in suburbs and their point is that income inequality in the United States shows up most pointedly in contrasting suburbs.
Today’s suburbs provide a map not just to the different worlds of the rich and the poor, which have always been with us, but to the increase in inequality between economic and social classes.
From the historian’s perspective, these patterns also reveal another truth about suburban places: their tendency to sustain and reinforce inequality. Bradbury [a rich LA suburb] and Azusa {a nearby poor LA suburb] have maintained their spots in the top and bottom tiers of the Los Angeles suburbs for decades. The sociologist John Logan described this “stratifying” feature long ago, noting that localities held on to social advantages and disadvantages over time. Patterns are established, and successive waves of pressure — fiscal, political, social — tend to keep things moving in the same direction.
They go on to suggest that somehow public policy needs to be at work lowering the social distance between geographically contiguous neighborhoods. I certainly agree that inequality like this is not desirable, but the solution has to come from the income side, not from the housing policy side. Unfortunately, as I have noted before [and just search for "jobs" here in the blog], population growth in developing countries has taken a lot of those middle-income jobs "off-shore" and it is hard to see when they will be coming back. Until they do, it seems unlikely to me that the suburban inequality is going to change very much.

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