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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
If the opioid epidemic was the top issue plaguing American cities in the last five years, the most urgent problem of the next five is homelessness, a group of American mayors told reporters in D.C. this week.
Why it matters: Homelessness in the U.S. was on the decline after 2010, but it started to increase again in 2016 — and without moves to address the affordable housing crisis driving the issue, we can expect it to keep getting worse, experts say.
"This is the issue of our time," said Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "It's more people; it's more places .... Cities that haven't experienced it in the past are experiencing it now."
The backdrop: The primary driver of rising homelessness is the exploding cost of housing in coastal superstar cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. L.A. alone saw a 26% jump in its homeless population between 2016 and 2017. Homelessness in New York increased 4% in that time.
One effective solution would be to address the mental health crisis that underpins homelessness, said Michelle de la Isla, Topeka, Kansas' mayor who was homeless herself when she was younger. Those struggling with a mental illness on top of homelessness find it much more difficult to get back on their feet, she said.
The bottom line: There are a host of ripple effects the country will have to contend with as homelessness increases, Bowen notes. One big impact will be an uptick in costs to the health care system as homelessness is linked to poor mental and physical health.
Go deeper: The zoning puzzle plaguing tech hubs
Nearly 10 million American kids live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to good schools, parks and healthy food.
Why it matters: Simply being born in these pockets put these kids at a stark disadvantage. The neighborhoods in which children grow up shape many aspects of their adult lives, including how long they'll likely live, how healthy they'll be, and how much money they'll make.
The big picture: In a new report, researchers at Brandeis University used several factors — such as poverty rate, employment statistics and acres of green space — to assign opportunity scores (ranging from 1 to 100) to all 72,000 neighborhoods in the country.
There are whopping disparities even within metro areas.
There's also "an extremely clear and disturbing racial divide," says Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, the lead researcher and director of Brandeis' Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy.
What to watch: Some city leaders have turned Brandeis' child opportunity index into a guide to address inequities at home.
The bottom line: "We've grown very complacent and grown used to seeing our metro areas so starkly divided," says Acevedo-Garcia. "But the fact that some kids live in these neighborhoods that have much, much, much worse conditions hurts all of us, as a country."
In addition to pointing to the urgency of homelessness, mayors at this week's roundtable — organized by The Hill — came to another consensus: rapidly aging populations are set to challenge U.S. cities.
The big picture: The median U.S. age jumped from 28 to 38 between 1970 and 2016, per CityLab. As cities get older, their mayors are tasked with creating policies and building infrastructure to adapt.
The mayors, who are in D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering this week, identified affordable housing and access to transportation as two urgent issues affecting seniors.
What to watch: Some cities are aging faster than others, CityLab reports. Communities in the Midwest and Appalachia are getting increasingly older as younger people move to the coasts, and managing aging populations will be an even more acute issue there.
Go deeper ... Read Axios' special report: The aging, childless future
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
A global trust crisis (Sara Fischer — Axios)
Reimagining the MBA (Patrick Thomas — WSJ)
The rise of direct-to-consumer orthodontia (Katherine Ellen Foley — Quartz)
The fall of the Forever 21 empire (Susan Berfield. Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, Lauren Coleman-Lochner — Bloomberg)
San Francisco tries to ease its housing crunch (Sarah Holder, Kriston Capps — CityLab)
The U.S. states with the highest rates of physical inactivity are clustered in the South, per a new map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By the numbers: In Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, 30% or more of adults called themselves physically inactive (defined by the CDC as "not participating in any leisure-time physical activities" like walking, running or biking in the last month).
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