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People and Metro Prosperity

This week we’ve discussed several of the key ingredients for metropolitan economic prosperity and the policy issues affecting those success factors.

Yet those of us at The Avenue don’t lie awake at night worrying about metro areas as places (well, maybe we dream about our favorite coffee spot or something). The ultimate measure of metropolitan performance, after all, is the level of prosperity enjoyed by its residents. 

Why is it important to examine people and families through a metropolitan lens? First, most U.S. residents (85 percent at last count) live in a metropolitan area. 

More importantly, though, we live our day-to-day lives beyond the smaller-scale geographies--neighborhoods, towns, cities--that defined Americans’ lives of yesteryear. In our own Washington, D.C. region, three-quarters of residents work at a job located outside their home city or town, half work outside their home county, and one-fourth actually work outside their home state (or District, as the case may be).

Many of our inquiries focus on demographic, social, and economic phenomena that affect the well-being of families throughout metropolitan areas, or that differentiate the experiences of those in Greater Bakersfield from those in Greater Baton Rouge.

Our preoccupations generally include (among many others):

Improving higher educational attainment. Progress on higher educational attainment, long a ladder to economic and social success in American society, has stalled, threatening future standards of living and reinforcing inequalities between the rich and poor. We have argued that community colleges—the most inherently metropolitan institutions of higher education—represent an accessible and affordable route for a wide spectrum of students to access good paying jobs and further education, and leaders in the Obama administration and Congress have responded with federal legislation that seeks to strengthen these institutions. We’ll examine how this landmark initiative evolves, and how it might interact with state higher education systems suffering severe financial stress.

Confronting the changing reality of metropolitan poverty. Already by 2005, a majority of the nation’s metropolitan poor lived outside its cities. All signs point to the current economic downturn further accelerating the suburbanization of poverty. This trend is placing new stresses on safety net services and policies designed to serve the largely urban poor of a former generation. Can housing, transportation, education, and related policy areas help address the needs of low-income families throughout metropolitan areas? Or will the suburban poor eventually confront the same levels of isolation and segregation that their inner-city counterparts still face today?

Defining the metropolitan stake in immigration reform. President Obama has pledged to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. Many of the newest destination areas for immigrants to the United States have little history or identity with immigration, arousing social conflict and anxiety over the costs of immigration, and motivating disparate policy responses at the state and local level. We will examine how the economic downturn is shifting the settlement patterns of immigrants, and how federal efforts to modernize the system might impact metropolitan labor markets.

And of course, we’ll follow closely how metropolitan workers and families are faring economically along what’s likely to be a long road to recovery.

To (liberally) paraphrase Charlton Heston, “Metro America is people!” We look forward to a robust discussion.