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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “The Era of Urban Supremacy Is Over’,” Thomas B. Edsall addresses a major demographic trend that will put increasing pressure on the Democratic Party: “Most of the nation’s major cities face a daunting future as middle-class taxpayers join an exodus to the suburbs, opting to work remotely as they exit downtowns marred by empty offices, vacant retail space and a deteriorating tax base….The most recent census data “show almost unprecedented declines or slow growth, especially in larger cities,” William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, emailed in response to my query….From July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021, “New census data shows a huge spike in movement out of big metro areas during the pandemic,” Frey wrote in an April 2022 paper, including “an absolute decline in the aggregate size of the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas (those with populations exceeding 1 million).”….This is the first time, Frey continued, “that the nation’s major metro areas registered an annual negative growth rate since at least 1990.”….The beneficiaries of urban population decline are the suburbs….Even more damaging to the finances of major cities is the fact that the men and women most likely to move to the suburbs are among the highest-paid key sources of income and property tax revenues: workers with six-figure salaries in technology, finance, real estate and entertainment. Those least likely to move, in turn, are paid much less, working in service industries, health care, hospitality and food sales….There is a striking interaction between the Covid-driven exodus from the cities and changing racial and ethnic urban populations. From 2020 to 2021, the nation’s 56 largest metropolitan areas saw a cumulative decline of 900,000 in their white populations, Frey reported….In an August 2022 essay titled “White and Youth Population Losses Contributed Most to the Nation’s Growth Slowdown,” Frey wrote that, among the metropolitan areas with populations in excess of one million, “43 saw absolute declines in their white populations. Sixteen saw absolute declines in their Black populations, and six saw declines in Latino or Hispanic and Asian American populations.”

“The question facing large cities, especially the older cities in the North,” Edsall continues, “is whether they can break what urban experts now call an urban doom loop. The evidence to date suggests that things are not improving much….the percentage of days employees worked from home shot up from 5 percent to 60 percent in the early months of the pandemic and then began to decline, stabilizing at just over 25 percent for the last year….At the same time, employers are finding that the opportunity to work two to three days at home is a very attractive perk to be able to offer prospective hires and to keep valued workers. [economist Nicholas] Bloom found that, on average, employees view an offer to work part of the week at home as equivalent to an 8 percent raise….If that were not enough, Bloom reported that a survey of engineers and marketing and finance professionals found that working from home reduced quit rates by 35 percent….Looking at urban population shifts from 2019 to 2021, [founding fellow at the Urban Reform Institute Wendell] Cox observed that almost all substantial gains were in Sun Belt cities: Among the top 15 metropolitan population percentage gainers, 13 were in the South, with two in the West (Phoenix and Las Vegas). Austin had the strongest population growth (3.0 percent), followed by Raleigh (2.4 percent), Phoenix (2.4 percent) and Jacksonville (2.0 percent)….Ryan Streeter, the director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in an email that large cities, many in the North, “have grown too expensive (mostly because of housing but also because of taxes) and have been experiencing out-migration even before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated that in important, and apparently lasting, ways.”

Edsall adds, “I asked Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and the executive director of the Urban Reform Institute in Houston, about the economics of major cities, and he replied by email: “The era of urban supremacy is over. The party that addresses this will win. These areas need infrastructure and tax structures that encourage building houses, particularly affordable single-family ones” — “houses that a couple who work at Walmart can afford….Migration to dense cities started to decline in 2015, when large metropolitan areas began to see an exodus to smaller locales. By 2022, rural areas were also gaining population at the expense of cities. The pandemic clearly accelerated this process, with a devastating rise in crime and lawlessness ….Politically, it would be devastating for the Democratic Party, which already faces voter anger over manifestations of urban dysfunction: homeless encampments, rising homicide rates, rampant crime and a sense of disorder on city streets and in city schools….In 2022 the poverty rate in Philadelphia was 22.8 percent; in Houston, 19.5 percent; Boston, 17.6 percent; New York, 17 percent, all well above the 11.6 percent national rate. In Los Angeles, 397 residents per 100,000 are homeless; in New York, 394; in Seattle-Tacoma, 349….The challenge facing cities is that dysfunction tends to engender dysfunction; downward spirals accelerate. Covid and remote work have transformed the face of urban America, just as the nation’s cities were becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. In many ways, this is a test. It would be difficult to measure the costs of failing to pass such a test.” Can Democrats lure workers and families back to the cities? Or can they figure out creative ways to build support among the new urban refugees who are sinking roots in rural and exurban communities? Can they do both? The Democratic party’s very survival likely depends on an affirmative answer to these three questions.

“There are two important off-cycle legislative elections this year— one in New Jersey and one in Virginia.,,” Howie Klein writes in “The Dems Have Ignored State Legislative Races For Too Long– And Has Paid A Price– That’s Changing” at Crooks & Liars Blue America. “New Jersey’s 80-seat Assembly currently has 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans and the 40 seat state Senate has 25 Dems and 15 Republicans. The Democrats lost 6 Assembly seats and one Senate seat in 2021. Hopefully they’ll be smarter about it this cycle— but I’m not counting on it. The state Democratic Party is so riven with corruption that it’s hopeless….Virginia has a better situation and, in fact, Blue America has already endorsed 8 candidates between the 2 Houses. The primary is June 20 for the November elections in the 2 chambers. All 40 Senate seats and all 100 House seats are up for grabs….In 2019, the Democrats netted 2 Senate seats, gaining control of both Houses and the governors’ mansion for the first time since 1993. It didn’t last long and 2 years ago, the Democrats lost the House of Delegates (and the gubernatorial race). Currently there are 22 Dems in the Senate and 18 Republicans. There are 52 Republican delegates and 48 Democrats. Post-redistricting, the Dems have a good shot at expanding their Senate majority and winning back the House of Delegates….Yesterday, reporting for CBS News, Aaron Navarro wrote that “Democrats defended every state legislative chamber in their control in 2022, the first midterm elections since 1934 in which the party in control did not lose a chamber. To replicate that record next year, they say they’ll need more money. A memo from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) sent to donors asks for an additional $10 million for 2024, as well as for Virginia’s legislative elections this fall and any special elections that may emerge in New Hampshire, where Democrats are just three seats away from flipping the state House. The memo pitches it to donors as an early investment to ‘protect the path to the presidency’ through building the party’s grassroots presence in presidential battleground states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

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