It’s Not a Mystery Why America’s Biggest Cities Are Losing Population
Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson mulls over whether we’re seeing a “great metropolitan exodus” because America’s top cities have recently begun losing population.
Chicago has been losing people for years now, but Los Angeles and New York City have also found themselves on the decline. Both cities had been seeing domestic outmigration (people moving out of the city to other parts of the country) for several years, but foreign immigration into the two cities have long made up for it.
But new census data shows that Los Angeles County is seeing a net loss of about 13,000 folks, and New York’s Bronx, Kings, and Queens counties (all containing parts of New York City) have seen a combined net loss of about 40,000 people, based on census data released back in April.
Thompson hits some of the big issues affecting these cities (housing problems in Los Angeles, crime and racism in Chicago), but he does so in a vague “maybe this is a contributor?” fashion. It’s partly understandable; because the trend is new (except in Chicago) the full nature of this population drain isn’t entirely clear, and it’s too soon to give firm answers without falling into confirmation biases, even if they do have statistical support. Still, each of these cities is facing some severe problems in the way they’re managed, their uncertain financial situations, and a general disregard for the welfare and liberty of the citizens who live there.
Chicago. What more is there to say about a city that is infamous for its corrupt police department (not to mention the rest of its government) as well as its growing financial crisis? The city and state’s pension crises continue to escalate as Chicago has—for years—failed to properly fund the pensions of its very well-paid employees. The city has responded to this growing crisis not by cutting back on spending but by desperately looking for revenue anywhere they can get it, which means trying to shake more change out of the pockets of city residents. Reason‘s C.J. Ciaramella has documented how the city has been impounding people’s cars and attempting to soak them for thousands of dollars in fines.
Now the city is hoping that recently legalized marijuana sale revenue will help balance the budget, but the high taxes on recreational weed sales guarantee that (just like in California) a black market for pot will continue to thrive. The city cannot depend on that revenue to fix its problems.
As such, Chicago is seeking more and more money from its citizens to simply stay afloat. Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, noted in June that Chicago “cannot keep asking taxpayers to give us more revenue without the structural reforms that are fundamentally necessary to make our city and our state run better.” But then in July, Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker resisted her proposed solution to combine the state’s various pension systems under one umbrella out of fear it will hurt the state’s extremely troubled credit rating. Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute noted that Lightfoot’s plan was essentially an attempt to get a state bailout of Chicago’s pension debts, and the end result would likely be a massive state deficit and more calls for tax increases.
Chicago may well be in a financial death spiral. Given all the official city-sanctioned government pickpocketing, it’s not surprising that people are abandoning the Windy City.
Los Angeles. Thompson quite accurately notes that the city and the entire state of California is stuck in a crisis due to lack of housing, and it’s most certainly contributing to L.A.’s outmigration (not to mention the city’s expanding homeless population).
But Thompson doesn’t really delve into the deliberately destructive regulatory systems in California that keep big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco from being able to efficiently build more homes.
California gives its residents way too much power to attack and veto nearby housing developments by abusing state environmental regulations. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is invoked regularly by wealthier NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) types who may fret in public about the homeless crisis but will fight any solution that might bring more people to their neighborhood. CEQA is also regularly abused by construction unions to try to force developers to negotiate with them or risk long delays and court fights in order to build anything at all.
These fights naturally drive up the costs of housing, making it harder and harder for developers to actually build “affordable” housing, which then becomes another tool used to fight any housing development at all by people trying to hold back progress, complaining it will lead to gentrification and people (particularly poor minorities) getting shoved out of their homes. Research consistently shows that the idea that gentrification is caused by adding more housing to poor or minority communities is mostly nonsense. Yet it still gets used by NIMBY neighbors who are really just trying to protect their property values.
All of that is to say that the source of L.A.’s housing problem is easy to identify and solve. Instead, we’re seeing responses that will make the housing problem worse—like expanded rent control. Fortunately, though, there are some major housing developments currently under construction in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the city council seems to think the solution to the city’s homeless problem involves banning them from sleeping outdoors in more places.
New York City. It’s tempting to just say “Mayor Bill de Blasio” as an explanation of what’s ailing the Big Apple. There’s a reason that de Blasio is currently one of the least popular candidates vying for the presidential nomination: He is wildly unpopular in his own state.
De Blasio has pretty much no interest in what you, as a resident of New York City, would like to do with your property, your life, or your child’s education. He has said believes that the purpose of businesses and corporations are to serve the government and wants to seize and redistribute their profits if they make more money than he prefers. He has said he would like to seize poorly maintained properties to hand them over to the city’s Housing Authority, even though the agency has been ranked as the worst landlord in the Big Apple by the New York City Public Advocate, the city’s elected ombudsman.
De Blasio is also a massive enemy of school choice, unlike former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has donated his own money to support charter schools. De Blasio is fighting charter schools and gifted schools all to pander to unions and other politically powerful city residents. This attack isn’t going to hurt wealthy families—they will send their kids to private schools regardless. Instead, he’s hurting talented children in poor and minority families who see charter schools as an alternative when their kids are not being served well by traditional public schools. Instead of attempting to actually improve the quality of public schooling, he’s trying to institute demographic quotas to decide which children attend which schools in some misguided attempt at “fairness,” which will level the playing field by dragging everybody down to the city-approved level of mediocrity.
Despite de Blasio’s vocal attacks against the wealthy and connected, as mayor, he’s mostly served the entrenched city government power base at the expense of his own citizens. And we see the same in Los Angeles and Chicago. Is there any wonder people might be packing up and moving out?
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