Paul Krugman Links Sprawl to Persistent Social Inequality

Is sprawl holding back social mobility in America? Paul Krugman didn’t mince words yesterday in a follow-up to a post he wrote soon after the Detroit bankruptcy was announced. In that initial blog post, he compared Detroit to Pittsburgh and concluded that it wasn’t just the loss of manufacturing jobs that hurt Detroit — it was also the dispersement of jobs away from the city core. Yesterday, in a column titled “Stranded by Sprawl,” he took the argument further, arguing, “Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger.”

Researchers have linked the lack of social mobility in places like Atlanta to the spatial segregation of different classes. Photo: ##

Take Atlanta, says Krugman. Though its population is on the rise, a study released last week shows that Atlanta is one of the worst places in the country for social mobility: The chances that a kid born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder could move to the top fifth are one in 25.

Krugman writes that researchers have found “a significant negative correlation between residential segregation — different social classes living far apart — and the ability of the poor to rise.” He elaborates:

And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.

They may not be insolvent, but when it comes to the lack of social mobility, Atlanta and other sprawling metros are already following the same pattern as Detroit.

25 thoughts on Paul Krugman Links Sprawl to Persistent Social Inequality

  1. Honestly, this is what people want. This is one of the main driving factors that creates sprawl in the first place. Separating social classes spatially is otherwise known as “white flight”. A large portion of the people moving further and further out are doing so to actually be farther away from the lower class areas. It’s hard to fight sprawl when those moving outward are doing so specifically to get as many miles between them and the poor as possible.

    Those miles take money to cover, and thus the miles act as a sort of wall, keeping the poor in one area and the rich in another, separated not by a physical wall, but by a wall of distance, distance that can only be covered by a large investment of time and/or money. This makes the ‘sprawl wall’ one that only limits the poor’s mobility, and freely allows the rich to pass (at a fairly significant, but bearable financial and time cost).

    Those on the greener side of the sprawl wall want it that way and actively work to keep it that way.

  2. The socioeconomic segregation is one part of the equation. Urban disinvestment caused by sprawl is the other. Together, they create a vicious cycle that leads to insolvency.

    Just as freeways allowed more affluent residents to flee Detroit, the incentives to invest and reinvest in the city and its neighborhoods eroded as the investment flowed, instead, to the outlying suburbs.

  3. That’s definitely true, some people want sprawl.

    What others are arguing for is that potential for future sprawl needs to be tamed with urban growth boundaries and better-connected transit. Some sprawl is beyond hope, it can’t be connected well with transit. But some suburbs do have the capability to at least help workers get to their jobs without having to spend so much money and time on cars and sitting in traffic or having to take so many buses or trains to get to work.

  4. That’s the problem. If we connect suburbs with transit hubs, all that does is make it easier to live further away, and promotes more sprawl. Instead of trying to make the sprawl cost less, we need to work on making it cost more (well, make the true cost more apparent). End subsidies on roads, gas, etc. Gas is already costing us upwards of $20 per gallon, only a few dollars of which is recouped at the pump. Let’s start putting the cost of our oil war into the pump prices. Let’s up gas tax until it actually pays for the full cost of the roads.

    Allow utility companies to charge what the need to make connecting people profitable (hint, it’s not profitable to put up poles and run electric when you’re only getting 3 or 4 house connected per mile). If these McMansions came with a $30,000 charge from the electric company upfront to connect them, a $50,000 for gas and a $50,000 charge for running water, people might think twice before moving further out. Instead, we’ve got regulations that force the utilities to connect homes with little to no connection fees. As such, the utilities spend vast sums running feeds out to sparsely populated areas and are forced to recover those costs by charging everyone a bit more, thus those in the city are subsidising the utilities of those in the exurbs.

    If we make it actually cost, up front, what it really does already cost for people to live in the suburbs or exurbs, far less people would live there. Instead, we’re forcing those in the city to cover part of the cost of those living further out, and that’s absolutely backward. If the exurbs cost 3 or 4 times more to live in than the city (as it already actually does, but is subsidised), then very few would move there.

  5. I totally agree. I’ve been saying for quite a while that many people may want to live in suburbs or exurbs, but few are willing or able to pay the true costs. Once we stop subsidizing sprawl, people can make a decision based on the true economics of sprawl versus higher density. A century ago, when we didn’t subsidize sprawl, only two kinds of people lived out in the country-the rich, and farmers. Nobody else could afford to. Moreover, farmers had only dirt roads because that was all the localities could afford. We need to return to this model. Sprawl is wasteful on many levels, but the biggest waste is repurposing arable farmland for housing tracts. I feel with the amount of arable farmland decreasing, we may have little choice but to return housing tracts to their original purpose, regardless of whether or not people want to live there. And as I said, few people are willing or able to pay what it really costs to live in the middle of nowhere.

  6. Sprawl is one of many symptoms. The cause of inequality is education and its a 2-way street. Start efforts there.

  7. not much new here, reread The Other America by Michael Harrington from 50 years ago. The secession to sprawl was deliberate and the follow on of jobs via Edge Cities (Joel Garreau) sealed the deal. While the disaster affects whites also, it began and remains most desperate for the poorest urban blacks who cannot commute to the jobs in reasonable times. A recent report of a woman who does baggage handling at Chicago O’Hare makes the point that she has a 2 hour commute by transit from her South Side Chicago home to work. Doesn’t leave much time for child rearing.

  8. Education is worthless if you can’t get to the jobs after you graduate. We need to give strong incentives for companies to locate in areas which are transit accessible or any efforts made towards improving education will be in vain.

  9. “It’s hard to fight sprawl when those moving outward are doing so
    specifically to get as many miles between them and the poor as possible.”

    Your premise seems false. People mostly moved to get better quality of life : more space, less crime, better governance, more safety, &c. ,not to avoid “the poor”.

  10. Economics is his field. What is your point? There’s a physical nature to economics, obviously. Too many people forget that.

  11. And what is your field of expertise in, Mr Hydar? If its not specifically in urban planning does that mean you’re not allowed to comment on sprawl or anything else related to urban planning? If so then you should probably keep your trap shut.

  12. Wrong. Education is the great equivocator. Everyone is entitled to a K-12 opportunity. What one does with that after is mostly an individual choice. Inequality may persist, but the initial playing field is the same

  13. The idea that people in the 50s to 70s moved to get a better quality of life is true, but, it would be revisionist to ignore that part of the very definition of a better quality of life was a life surrounded by white people. And getting away from non-white people not only because they are co-located with crime or poor governance or lack of safety, but, also simply because they are not white.

    Don’t whitewash Orange County’s history. 😉

  14. Krugman’s blog is free and he posts several times per day. Just google Paul krugman blog. The right wing hates Krugman and what they say about him is mostly name calling and just outright lies. Lots of articles saying he seriously advocates a fake space alien invasion. That was a joke, but those folks have no sense of humor. This article is accurate and fair, but most are not. Read his blog yourself and you will see.

  15. I think it is naive to assume that people should have just stayed and let their kids be educated at school districts that sudden got double the students with just 15% more funding then before.

    Schools are a centerpiece of many of these demographic shifts, they can’t be ignored. If I had children (I still don’t), moving to the top school district on my metro area would be priority number one (unless I could pay good private schools).

  16. There is a value to paved roads in the countryside — they let farmers transport eggs to the train station, for delivery to cities, without breaking the eggs. 🙂

    (I read this factoid a while back.)

    Otherwise, agree.

  17. Krugman’s attitude that all the poor’s problems are other’s fault, is just more lies that the left continue to spew. And his attitude that poor people should be supported on the backs of our productive people, is just BS. Handouts have shown over and over to keep poor people in poverty and dependent on the Democratic handouts. His continually ridiculing the GOP who are trying to save this country from Obama’s impending destruction and poverty shows his overwhelming ignorance. Other countries that have adopted these kind of socialist policies have all bankrupted and fell into total poverty. The former USSR, cradle to grave care, but not available, then bankruptcy, their productive people quit working. Cuba, Greece, and the other bankrupt countries of Europe also. Countries that were in poverty with Obama style policies have changed to a capitalist system, like we use to have, and are doing well now, we are changing to their style of government when they were in total poverty. Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people, but the parasites can’t see past his promises of more handouts. And Krugman is the dumbest ever, and causing these contry destroying myths to build, he is a very real enemy of the USA, destroying it from within, as Obama has dreamed of for 40 years.

  18. Krugman is an enemy of the USA. He is participating in Obama’s dream of destroying the USA from within, as Obama stated many times before he ran for president. Their stated BS, of helping the poor with handouts, is proven lies. It has been shown over and over that handouts only keep poor people in poverty and dependent on Democratic handouts. These poor people say”why find a way to support myself, I’m getting by”. Get some self respect and consider the truth. Obama has ruined the, once proud, Democratic party for a long time, as the polls show.

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