Dec 10, 2018

America's BIG problem is fueling us-versus-them

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The big and powerful are getting bigger and more powerful — and the clear and dominant winners are big cities. 

Why it matters: With wealth, jobs and power increasingly concentrated in a few large cities, we are witnessing a growing economic and political divide between urban and rural America. As we've previously written, it's part of a larger dynamic favoring "superstar" countries and companies, too — behemoths that appear positioned to dominate the future global economy. This fuels us-versus-them.

  • We see this in jobs: Roughly half of all U.S. zip codes still have lower total employment than they did in 2007, while the top 20% of zip codes have added 3.6 million jobs, per John Lettieri of the Economic Innovation Group. That’s more than the economy as a whole. Amazon, after surveying the country, picked New York and D.C. for its 50,000-person expansion. 
  • We see this in technology: New cool technologies hit cities first, be it 5G, autonomous transportation or drone delivery. This gives cities a huge edge for future growth. 
  • We see this in health care: Rural Americans have far fewer hospitals, workout facilities and health specialists, feeding a rise in obesity and disabilities. 
  • We see this in education: Big employers and better technology makes cities magnets for better teachers, schools and specialized training. 
  • We see this in news and information: Big media companies, almost all located in cities, are getting bigger. The flip side: 500+ newspapers have been closed or merged in non-metro communities since 2004.

Be smart: All of this is hitting politics hard. Democrats own the fast-growing cities, and Republicans rule rural. The polarization could easily get worse, not better, as technology speeds change. 

  • Telling stat: Donald Trump carried 2,584 counties to Hillary Clinton’s 472. But the counties she carried accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. economic output, per the Brookings Institution.
  • Telling stat 2: Orange County flipping to blue marks the end of the last Republican urban area in America. 

Worst case scenario: Ian Bremmer’s Eurasia Group, which examines geopolitical trends, warned earlier this year that the next great worldwide independence movement could be prosperous, powerful cities breaking off on their own. Doubtful, but fun for parlor games.

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