A group called the Economic Innovation Group has released its 2017 Distressed Communities Index, which looks at disparities in the economies of cities and regions and the impacts those disparities have on other factors, such as health, public assistance spending, and education. One of the interesting insights to come out of the report is that some smaller American cities have yet to escape the impact of the 2007 housing crash — and may never recover. But in Texas — or, at least, in Texas suburbs — the news is mostly rosy.
Frisco, Allen, and Flower Mount all rank among the most prosperous small and mid-sized cities. And Plano ranks No. 2 on the study’s list of the 10 most prosperous of the country’s 100 largest cities (which appears to mean cities with at least 200,000 people). One of the reasons for this localized prosperity is that suburban communities are self-selective, and their residents can prosper off the economic opportunity offered by major metropolitan hubs while keeping the challenges posed by large urban communities outside of their boundaries:
Calculating the DCI [Distressed Community Index] at the city level provides another look into how people sort themselves—not just by neighborhood, but within the boundaries that delineate school districts, police forces, planning departments, and other forms of public service delivery. The DCI finds that “suburban cities”—often relatively homogeneous places where people at similar income levels cluster and recycle their local tax dollars back into schools, infrastructure, and other amenities—are typically far more prosperous than their more urbanized peers.
Another factor that contributes to prosperity is the relative newness of a community. While coastal and rust belt cities are saddled with some of the challenges that come from withstanding generations of economic cycles, younger cities are surrounded by newer — and therefore more unilaterally prosperous — communities:
All 10 of the country’s most prosperous small and mid-sized cities are burgeoning locales positioned on the outskirts of major non-coastal metropolitan regions—around Dallas, Denver, and Minneapolis, for example. All are relatively new cities: The median home was built only 17 years ago on average. And all of them are relatively small. The largest, Frisco, TX, is home to only 137,800 people, making it the country’s 190th most populous city.
However, not everything about those non-coastal cities is positive, as Dallas residents know all too well. While the beneficiaries of growth and prosperity cluster into self-perpetuating, new suburban communities, those on the other end of the economic spectrum are likewise self-segregated into distressed zones. According to the study, Dallas County ranks seventh among U.S. counties with the most people living in “distressed” zip codes, defined as “places increasingly alienated from the benefits of the modern economy.” They are places where, as the national economy rebounded following the Great Recession, jobs and businesses were lost.
The study is useful to point out why nation-wide statistics and analyses of economic growth and prosperity fall short of telling the real story of the modern American economy. To understand the U.S. economy, you have to look at it at a local scale, neighborhood-by-neighborhood. America today — as Dallas reflects to a T — is a tale of two nations, one prospering and the other flaying. And thanks to the efficiency with which entire communities can remain isolated from that distress (or be kept segregated from prosperity), it is possible to live in one America and not know anything about the other.
Finally, the study looks at how political demographics spread across these zones of prosperity and distress and finds, unsurprisingly, that Republicans primarily represent the “haves,” while Democrats represent the “have-nots:”
Republicans dominate at the very top of the distribution, representing nine of the 10 most prosperous congressional districts in the country. Most of these are suburban enclaves around fast-growing metropolitan areas, for example on the outskirts of Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Washington, DC. Expanding to the entire top quintile, Republicans represent 63 percent of the country’s prosperous districts compared to Democrats’ 37 percent. Conversely, six of the country’s 10 most distressed congressional districts are represented by Democrats. Eight of the 10 are located in the South, with Ohio’s 11th (Cleveland) and Arizona’s 7th (Phoenix) as the two exceptions. Once again, the full spectrum of distress is represented in the bottom 10: urban and rural, immigrant and native-born, predominantly white and predominantly minority. Five of the 10 seats are represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.