Why Americans Are Leaving Big Cities For Better Housing

The desire for a better housing is trumping career prospects for Americans across the country. When a lagging economy and housing supply and demands meet, the residents feel the effects. These effects that are currently taking place are some of the worst the country has seen in recent memory. For example, Los Angeles county's well-documented work struggles is far from new news. However, from 2007-2011, more Los Angeles county residents moved to nearby San Bernardino than any other county-to-county move in the period. Unfortunately, this was not a move desired by many.

Instead, the move was spurred on by Los Angeles county's real estate problem that sees high rent prices for small or undesirable living spaces. Partner this with the city's job struggles the exodus to San Bernardino county doesn't come as much of a surprise. These effects are being felt by families and individuals alike. Yet, life is not better once the people have arrived. Unless these individuals already have a job in place finding work could be even more difficult. Furthermore, when they do find work many of the opportunities in the big city are no longer available in the more affordable areas. For many, this means putting aside dreams of workplace fulfillment for the basic human need of keeping a roof over their head.

Looking at some of America's most affordable cities in 2014 there are some rather well-known cities. However, in areas such as Buffalo and Detroit, residents are facing times where poverty and unemployment can affect nearly a third of their citizens. This in many cases is due to one or more industries dying in the city, as is with San Bernardino. To fully grasp the issue, take a look at the cause and effect of this ongoing national problem.

Why They Are Moving

In short, the jobs that are available aren't able to pay the bills. Rent and utilities in cities are notoriously high. If a person can't find work, sometimes more than one job, they will have a difficult time keeping their head above water as they try to “make it” in the city. In Los Angeles it can be a difficult task finding a part-time food service job, much less a more specified position that has limited positions available in the entire city.

Looking away from Los Angeles, the entire United States is facing a problem. Of the state's with the five highest cost of living numbers (data from 2000-2011) only New Hampshire (4.7%) had an unemployment lower than 6.5% at the end of March 2014. This could mean that the proverbial greener pastures aren't so green themselves.

Rather, the field looks just as, if not more, bleak when looking at the entire picture. Yet, most of the struggles seem to be from those living in big cities. Renting isn't the only issue. Those looking to become home owners face significant struggles. Home owner rates in New York City (53.9%) and the District of Columbia (41.6%) rank far below more affordable states altogether. However, it can be argued that the leading state of West Virginia (72.9%) can be rather misleading with its lower average income, which in part has to do with cost of living and available jobs.

All of these factors have led to many “giving up” on their big city dreams. Yet, all is not lost for those with city aspirations willing to try somewhere new. Before going to suburban or rural areas many are moving to cities gaining in popularity. Portland, Oregon's approach to living has appealed to many in the Gen X and Y crowds while Austin, Texas is seeing a strong uptick for their entertainment and flourishing tech industries.

The Effects Of Leaving

Housing is more affordable in these areas due to the lack of prospects in the surrounding area. Yet, these new residents are entering counties that are near or already bankrupt. The likelihood of finding any sort of well-paying job is rather slim. If one is lucky enough to find a decent paying position they are still usually paying less than what would be paid in a larger city. This effectively stunts the growth of the individual who made the move. If they had aspirations of using this move as a stop-gap they could find themselves in a long-standing predicament unable to save enough money. If they are content in their new area they still have to face an ongoing fear that a bad fiscal quarter could send them back to the unemployment line.

To further highlight this issue, look no further than San Bernardino's police force. San Bernardino City Council member Jim Mulvihill told NPR "San Bernardino is bankrupt...Because of that, we've cut back. We had 340 on our police force, now we're down to 240. And given all that, we've had a high crime rate." If a police force is being downsized, it can be quite telling to how the rest of the community may fair. Proper analysis of the area you are moving to could be vital to this move being prosperous. For some, that time isn't there, and they have to take their chances immediately. While this is not a recommended approach, it is becoming one that many Americans have faced in recent years.

Some cities are looking to tackle the issue as well. New York City's new mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign about restoring opportunities for the city's less affluent. So far, the administration has broken ground on a 200,000 unit affordable housing project in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The project is slated for a December 2016 completion. For a city riddled with residents leaving and gentrification, this is one step in the right direction. It doesn't address gentrification much, but to some degree the affordable housing issue does receive its first solution. While this is far from significant progress, it’s nonetheless a step in the right direction.

The question remains how other cities will respond. Not every city is equipped to tackle problems like New York City, and not many small towns can handle more moving in to an already stressed community. This is an epidemic in the U.S. that needs to be tackled immediately. As writer Timothy Noah told NPR, “You have to tackle the housing problem, but you also have to tackle the inequality problem." Until economic and racial disparities can be bridged, this issue could linger for quite some time.

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