What of the middle class in Boston? If we follow the local and nationwide trends, we could well have a tiny portion of middle-income families, individuals and neighborhoods. The middle-income folk would go to the suburbs and exurbs, leaving rich and poor.
For the benefit of all three major economic groups, we should care, both in individual terms and as public policy and legislative agenda. As Bostonians, we need be aware of what's at stake from a city of only extremes.
In this era, we may lose sight of such cascading effects. After all, from realty to petro products to medical care to food, real or quasi monopolies, oligopolies and informal cartels control prices of what we buy. Yet, we hear from government and TV that market forces are offering us choice and keeping profits to a minimum while providing profit incentive.
We cannot afford to accept the fantasies of the laissez-faire conservatives.
In such a world, it would seem reasonable that the small subset of the wealthy and wealthiest could push out the middle-income from their neighborhoods and pay much more for housing suddenly carrying a LUXURY sign. Indeed, these very interlopers are quick to say that they pay more per capital in tax and shopping dollars, while lessening the loads on schools -- fewer people and fewer kids, kids who go to private school after all.
That doesn't sound like it has any downside, but the Brookings Institute studies see it otherwise -- as does this mildly opinionated commentator, as does the Boston Banner. Development that prices the middle class out of Boston has bad effects for top and bottom, as well as for the local culture in every sense.
It is understandable that the wealthiest families moving into the newest version of Boston would not want to jostle, see or smell hoi polloi. That is as understandable as their having their attorneys and legislators fighting estate taxes and seeking yet more tax breaks -- mine, mine, mine, mine -- before passing along their wealth to their kids. They are doing the human thing in protecting their own.
Yet, in the current trend, we see middle-income workers and families finding themselves priced out of their old neighborhoods. Their incomes are no longer adequate to live in the central fist and arm that is the city of Boston.
Thus, they find affordable suburbs and commute to the city for their jobs as knowledge workers, managers, firefighters and so forth. In fact, Brookings suggests that they may end up better off in terms of quality of life, including crime rates, schools and so forth. Only the commuting parent or parents lose that time to and from work.
Instead it is the poor who suffer directly when middle-class neighborhoods disappear. The traditional role of those neighborhoods was to enable that stereotypical American dream that so many millions of us have made real.
Consider a city in which the poor are within reach, if they work hard, study hard and maybe are a bit lucky, of upward mobility. They can get the diplomas and the jobs, and move to the middle-class areas. Even if the monthly rent or mortgage is a bit of a stretch, they end up realizing improvements for themselves and their offspring -- cleaner, quieter, safer neighborhoods with an upward spiral of economic and social possibilities. It has happened many times here and elsewhere.
In contrast, if the middle-incomers leave town, we can head to a rich/poor only Boston. Without that buffer for aspirations, the poor stand a much higher chance of staying poor. The diminished hopes and dreams breed the despair from which the stagnation of an entire class of citizens festers.
The notorious ghetto tax that the Banner details exacerbates the problems. When the captive poor spend disproportionate shares of their small income of necessities, the spiral screws ever downward.
Ironically for the wealthy, their domination of the housing and employment markets can backfire. A city without the broad base of economic classes lends itself both to crime and to competition for civic resources. The mired poor require more, and more diverse, services, further taxing the city and taking resources from the activities and infrastructure that the wealthy want.
In the end, this slowly leads to a less desirable, less fun, less Boston-ish Boston.
A future post considers what our politicians, planners and others suggest to avoid or shortcut this cycle.
Tags: massmarrier, Boston, middle class, cities, Brookings Institution