The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Poverty in America: In the Midwest, a forever recession

This has been provoking much discussion today. It's a Brookings Institution report on the "re-emergence" of concentrated poverty in America. In the video, Alan Berube lays it out in brief and makes one very interesting — and alarming — marco point: In the cities of the Midwest, "the recession that started at the beginning of the decade never really ended." 

The coasts have fared better. However, Berube also observes that concentrated poverty isn't just an urban phenonomeon any longer; it's moved into the suburbs. We've seen this in California. The UCLA Anderson Forecast that came out earlier this year indicated that the state is separating into two distinct regions or zones: the coast, where unemployment is moderating and growth is resuming; and the inland areas, where economic stagnation is setting in.

Viewed in the context of the Brookings report, we have both the good news and bad news in the Golden State. But the re-emergence of concentrated poverty has given us our own micro-version of the Midwest, just a few miles away from cities that are more prosperous. 

As for Berube's point about the recession never ending — he's not being precise, but his implied larger argument is worth considering. The recession of the early 2000s of course did technically end. But in the Midwest, more momentous economics trends are at work. The region is failing to keep pace with the coasts, as the remnants of the old American industrial base fade away.

Will it be possible to do anything about this? It's unclear. Detroit, for example, has been decimated over the past 20 years. However, the auto industry has staged a comeback — GM, Ford, and Chrysler are together one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2011, economically.

They're far from what they once were, however — reduced by competition and their own bad management. But they've come back as more nimble operations. It's possible that Midwestern cities may need to follow that example, remaking themselves as smaller polities, losing economic clout along the way.

This process could take a generation. But it may be the only way to avoid having a nation in which "flyover country" becomes a giant, decaying suburban warehouse for the poor.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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