The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past


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While there is some continuity between the old Western and thug cultures learned through extensive exposure to the media, that of the urban streets originated more in reaction to the long centuries of institutionalized violence against blacks during slavery and Jim Crow.

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Du Bois found it thoroughly entrenched in his own study of Philadelphia in the s. This culture is reinforced by contemporary conditions like poverty, racial discrimination, chronic unemployment, single parenting and a chemically toxic, neurologically injurious environment, like the lead paint that poisoned Freddie Gray. Its intersection with overly aggressive law enforcement was not random or inevitable, but rooted in a historical irony. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York introduced draconian new drug laws in the early s to combat the increasingly violent street life of New York City, he did so with the full support of black leaders, who felt they had no choice — their lives and communities were being destroyed by the minority street gangs and drug addicts.

But it was not long before the dark side of this intervention emerged: Soon all black youth, not just the delinquent minority, were being profiled as criminals, all ghetto residents were being viewed and treated with disrespect and, increasingly, police tactics relied on the use of violence as a first resort. In tackling the present crisis, it is thus a clear mistake to focus only on police brutality, and it is fatuous to attribute it all to white racism. Black policemen were involved in both the South Carolina and Baltimore killings.

Coming from the inner-city majority terrorized by the thug culture minority, they are, sadly, as likely to be brutal in their policing as white officers. We see it also in the maternal rage of Toya Graham, the Baltimore single mom whose abusive reprimand of her son, a video of which quickly went viral, reflects both her fear of losing him to the street and her desperate, though counterproductive, mode of rearing her fatherless son. WHAT is to be done? Accompanying this should be a drastic reduction in the youth incarceration rate, which President Obama can make a dent in immediately by pardoning the many thousands of nonviolent youths who have been unfairly imprisoned and whose incarceration merely increases their likelihood of becoming violent.

In regard to black youth, the government must begin the chemical detoxification of ghetto neighborhoods in light of the now well-documented relation between toxic exposure and youth criminality.


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While not many Democrats have gone that far publicly, some—including most prominently the presidential hopefuls—have expressed ever greater unease about removing people who cross borders unauthorized. Senator Kamala Harris pledged not to vote to reopen the federal government in January unless the financing bill confirmed protection for Dreamers, young people who grew up in the United States without legal status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. While it would be destabilizing and impractical to remove all the people who have been living peaceably in this country for many years, it does not follow that any nonfelon who sets foot in the U.

In the fall of , an unprecedentedly large caravan of would-be border crossers—peaking at 7, people—headed toward the United States from Central America. Trump demagogically seized on the caravan as a voting issue before the November midterm elections—and goaded many of his critics to equally inflammatory responses.

But however manipulatively oversold, the caravan existed; it was not a lie. Thousands of people were indeed approaching the U. Demagogues rise by talking about issues that matter to people, and that more conventional leaders appear unwilling or unable to address: unemployment in the s, crime in the s, mass immigration now.

Political elites have to devise solutions to those problems. If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones. A cross the developed world , very high levels of immigration have coincided with widening class divisions, the discrediting of political and economic elites, and the rise of extremist politics.

And immigration pressures will only intensify in the decades ahead, for reasons obscured by media coverage of immigrants as poor and desperate. Many immigrants are poor and desperate, especially refugees fleeing war or famine. But immigration is accelerating so rapidly in the 21st century less because of pervading misery than because life on our planet is improving for so many people. It costs money to move—and more and more families can afford the investment to send a relative northward.

That comparative affluence allows the strivers to buy things once impossibly out of reach: air conditioners, smartphones, motorized vehicles. But the thing those strivers want more than anything else—the great golden ticket into a whole new life—is exit from the less successful countries of the global South into the more successful countries of the global North. More than half the populations of South Africa and Kenya wish to leave home, according to the Pew Research Center, as do three-quarters of Nigerians and Ghanaians. In all these countries, it is the best-educated who most yearn to leave.

We are talking here about astonishingly large numbers of potential immigrants—large and fast-growing. Egypt will add 50 million people to its population over the next three decades. Bangladesh will reach million people; Pakistan, million. The populations of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, countries that have already sent so many people northward, will rise by 50 percent by , to more than 47 million. Altogether, the population of Africa in will almost equal the entire population of the world in 2.

Hundreds of millions of people will want to become Americans. Only a relatively small number realistically can. Who should choose which ones do? According to what rules? How will those rules be enforced? The Trump-era debate about a wall misses the point. The planet of tomorrow will be better educated, more mobile, more networked. Huddling behind a concrete barrier will not hold the world at bay when more and more of that world can afford a plane ticket. If Americans want to shape their own national destiny, rather than have it shaped by others, they have decisions to make now. But at present, the most important immigration decisions are made through an ungainly and ill-considered patchwork of policies.

Almost 70 percent of those who settle lawfully in the United States gained entry because they were close relatives of previously admitted immigrants. Many of those previously admitted immigrants were in their turn relatives of someone who had arrived even earlier. Every year some 50, people are legally admitted by lottery.

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Others buy their way in, by investing a considerable sum. In almost every legal immigration category, the United States executes its policy less by conscious decision than by excruciating delay. The backlog of people whose immigration petitions have been approved for entry but who have not yet been admitted is now nearing 4 million. Only spouses and children are exempted from annual numerical caps. Under present immigration policies, the U.

Nobody is seriously planning for such population growth—building the schools and hospitals these people will need, planning for the traffic they will generate. Nobody is thinking very hard about the environmental consequences, either. The average American causes the emission of almost 17 tons of carbon dioxide each year, quadruple the annual emissions of the average Mexican and 45 times the emissions of the average Bangladeshi. The question before the United States and other advanced countries is not: Immigration, yes or no? In a mobile world, there will inevitably be quite a lot of movement of people.

Immigration is not all or nothing. The questions to ask are: How much? What kind? Too little immigration, and you freeze your country out of the modern world. Too much, or the wrong kind, and you overstress your social-insurance system—and possibly upend your democracy.

Choose well, and you build a stronger, richer country for both newcomers and the long-settled. Choose badly, and you aggravate inequality and inflame intergroup hostility. How we choose will shape the future that will in its turn shape us.

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If you were born in West Africa or Central America to a family not of the ruling elite, you would probably yearn to emigrate. And if your family and friends could stake you the travel costs, you would probably seize the chance. A young person enterprising enough to hazard such a trip would surely contribute in many ways to his or her eventual new home.

Almost all of us in North America are descended from somebody who made such a decision, took that risk, and made those contributions. And what happens when those vast numbers of newcomers arrive, not in mass-production economies whose factories and mills need every pair of hands they can hire, but in modern knowledge economies that struggle to achieve full employment and steady wage growth? Some people look at migration pressures and see a solution. The million Americans of gave birth to fewer babies than did the million Americans of Without immigration, the U.

So would most European populations. Japan is leading the way to the dwindling future: In , 1. Precisely because advanced societies have so few children of their own, immigration brings change at startling speed. Relative to the existing native-born population, the migration of — was larger than that of today. The 75 million Americans of would receive 8 million immigrants, or almost 11 percent of their number, over the next decade. The million Americans of would receive 15 million to 16 million immigrants, or 6 percent of their number, over the next decade—the peak of the current wave.

Yet from onward, the foreign-born share of the U. Today, a relatively smaller amount of immigration is exerting larger population effects, because Americans are not replacing themselves. When natives have lots of children of their own, immigrants look like reinforcements. When natives have few children, immigrants look like replacements. A classic study by the social scientist Karen Stenner predicted the consequences of such feelings.

In any given population, according to Stenner, roughly one-third of people will have authoritarian tendencies. This habit of mind is just part of the way human beings are, in much the same way that a certain percentage will be born with depressive tendencies. Happily, the authoritarian tendency does not necessarily lead to authoritarian politics. In secure and stable circumstances, it goes dormant. But perceived threats to social norms trigger the tendency. Rapid ethnic change figures prominently on the list of such apparent threats. The extremism and authoritarianism that have surged within the developed world since draw strength from many social and economic causes.

Immigration is only one of them—but it is typically the spark that ignites the larger conflagration. Immigration has done particular damage to political parties of the moderate left. From the s until the s, social-democratic parties dominated the politics of the European Union member states.


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As of last spring, among the 28 governments of the EU, only Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden were led by social democrats. The German Social Democrats have suffered a staggering series of defeats at the national and state levels. In the October state elections in Bavaria, they lost half their seats, finishing in fifth place behind the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party. Read: Debating immigration policy at a populist moment. But young white Americans express nearly as much discomfort with demographic change as their elders do.

Almost half of white Millennials say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Whites under age 30 voted for Donald Trump in by a four-point majority, according to CNN exit polls. In European countries too, notably France, the parties of the far right are appealing more and more to the young.

Anti-immigrant feeling usually runs strongest in places that receive relatively few immigrants—stronger in eastern Germany than in Hamburg or Frankfurt; stronger in Hull and Stoke-on-Trent than in London; stronger in Laon than in Paris; stronger in rural America than in the multiethnic cities of the knowledge economy. Yet nonmetropolitan places are experiencing immigration in their own way. Mobility between countries appears to have the perverse effect of discouraging mobility within countries—in effect, moating off the most dynamic regions of national economies from their own depressed hinterlands.

Americans in the s are only half as likely to move to a new state as their parents were in the s. What has changed? Economic researchers have refuted some possible explanations—the aging of the population, for example. The most plausible alternative is directly immigration-related: Housing costs in the hottest job markets have grown much faster than the wages offered to displaced workers. Simply put, a laid-off Ohio manufacturing worker contemplating relocating to Colorado to seek a job in the hospitality industry is likely to discover that the move offers no higher pay, but much higher rent.

An immigrant from Mexico or the Philippines faces a very different calculus. Her wage gains would be significant. And while her housing options may seem lousy to someone accustomed to an American standard of living, to her they likely represent a bearable sacrifice for all the other opportunities offered by life in the United States—and possibly a material improvement over living conditions back home.

Yet when immigration is the subject, policy makers tend to concede the microphone to the economists—precisely the profession that looks at people and sees workers instead. From an economic point of view, immigration is good because it encourages specialization and thus efficiency.

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At that price, she might choose to do the yard work herself. Instead of leaving the office at 5 p. Or she can buy more services than she otherwise would. A lower bid from an immigrant-employing contractor might allow her to renovate her kitchen this year rather than postponing it to next year.

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But all of this only happens because lower-earning immigrants displace the Americans who used to do the work at higher costs. Perhaps he shifts to sales or design work. Either way, the economic models say, everybody is better off. Read: Does immigration harm working Americans? Yes, all of that is true. But when workers quit the workforce, they disappear from the statistical samples on which the economic models are built.

Labor-force statistics count only those in the labor force. If an American-born landscaper successfully upskills to foreman, his higher pay is recorded and measured. If an American-born landscaper retires early on a disability benefit, his lower income is not recorded and not measured.

First, adding millions of additional immigrant workers every decade makes the American economy in the aggregate much bigger than it would otherwise be. Second, immigration contributes very little to making native-born Americans richer than they would otherwise be. In , in the course of arguing the economic case for more immigration, George W. Third, the gains from immigration are divided very unequally.

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Immigrants reap most of them. Wealthy Americans claim much of the rest, in the form of the lower prices they pay for immigrant-produced services. From In the new economics of immigration, affluent Americans win. And finally, while the impact of immigration on what the typical American earns is quite small, its impact on government finances is big. Immigrants are expensive to taxpayers because the foreign-born population of the United States is more likely to be poor and stay poor.

Even when immigrants themselves do not qualify for a government benefit—typically because they are in the country illegally—their low income ensures that their children do. About half of immigrant-headed households receive some form of social assistance in any given year. Assertions that federal tax revenue from immigrants can stabilize the finances of programs such as Medicare and Social Security overlook the truth that immigrants will get old and sick—and that in most cases, the taxes they pay over their working life will not cover the costs of their eventual claims on these programs. If a goal of immigration policy is to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, it would be wise to accept fewer immigrants overall, but more high-earning ones, who will pay more in taxes over their working years than they will collect in benefits in retirement.

Under the present policy favoring large numbers of low-wage earners, the United States is accumulating huge future social-insurance liabilities in exchange for relatively meager tax contributions now. From Can we still afford to be a nation of immigrants? Yet the true bottom line is this: Neither the fiscal costs nor the economic benefits of immigration are large enough to force a decision one way or the other. Believe the most positive reckoning of the dollar benefits that mass immigration provides, and they are not so large that the United States would be crazy to refuse them.

What are these effects, then? Some are good, some are bad, and some depend on the eye of the beholder. Immigrants are making America safer. Generally, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans do. And although the children of immigrants commit crimes at much higher rates than their parents do, some evidence suggests that cities with higher percentages of immigrants have experienced steeper reductions in crime. President Trump speaks often about the victims of crime committed by undocumented immigrants, but the years of high immigration since have seen the steepest declines in crime since modern record-keeping began.

Immigrants are making America less self-destructive. Only one-fifth of Hispanic households own a firearm, as opposed to one-half of white households. The severest self-harm, suicide, is very much a problem of the native-born. Suicide rates have surged since But white people commit suicide at nearly three times the rate of ethnic minorities. The states with the highest percentages of immigrants have suffered least from the suicide surge; the states with the lowest percentages have suffered most. About 10 percent of the students in U.

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Unsurprisingly, these students score consistently lower on national assessment tests than native speakers do. In , nearly half of Hispanic fourth graders had not achieved even partial mastery of grade-level material. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, these children are at significant risk of dropping out of high school.

The nation has undertaken important educational reforms over the past generation. In many ways, that commitment has yielded heartening results. Yet since about , progress has stalled, and in some cases even reversed. Cuts to state budgets during the Great Recession bear some of the responsibility. But so does immigration policy. Hispanics now account for 26 percent of the fourth-grade population, up from 19 percent 10 years ago.

Disproportionately poor, and sometimes not speaking English at home, Hispanics tend to score considerably lower than white students. Immigrants are enabling employers to behave badly. Most jobs are becoming impressively safer, year by year. You may think of mining as a uniquely hazardous industry. Yet in , after a tragic sequence of accidents, Congress enacted the most sweeping mine-safety legislation in a generation. In the decade since, mining fatalities have declined by two-thirds.

Mining, however, is an industry dominated by native-born workers. Industries that rely on the foreign-born are improving much more slowly. Forestry, fishing, and farming are three of the most dangerous industries in the United States. They are 46 percent reliant on immigrant laborers, half of them undocumented.

Documented and undocumented immigrants together make up only 17 percent of the U. Building and grounds maintenance is surprisingly dangerous work: people died in Some 35 percent of grounds workers are immigrants. About 25 percent of construction workers are immigrants, but immigrants supply almost half the workers in the most dangerous areas, notably roofing and drywalling. America was built on the revolutionary idea, never fully realized, that those who labor might also govern—that every worker should be a voter.

The struggle toward this ideal has been slow, arduous, and sometimes violent. The immigration surge has had the effect of setting this ideal back. Half a century after the Voting Rights Act of , the United States has again habituated itself to employing workers who cannot vote and therefore cannot protect their interests or even their lives. Immigrants are altering the relationship between Americans and their government, and making the country more hierarchical. Visitors to the United States used to be startled by the casual egalitarianism of American manners.

That lesson may no longer be getting taught. In , almost every U. Today, in immigration-dense states such as California, Texas, New Jersey, and New York, at least 10 percent of residents are not citizens. These people occupy a wide array of subordinated legal statuses.

Some are legal permanent residents, lacking only the right to vote. Some are legal temporary residents, allowed to work but requiring permission to change employers. Some hold student visas, allowing them to study here but not to work. Some, such as the Dreamers, and persons displaced by natural disasters in the Caribbean or Central America, may have entered the country illegally but are authorized to remain and work under a temporary status that can continue for years or decades.

America is not yet Dubai or Qatar or ancient Athens, where citizenship is almost an aristocratic status rather than the shared birthright of all residents. But more and more of the people who live among Americans are not on equal legal footing with Americans. They cannot vote. They cannot qualify as jurors. If they commit a crime, they are subject not only to prison but to deportation. And because these noncitizens are keenly aware of those things, they adjust their behavior.

The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past
The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past The Crisis of Americas Cities: Solutions for the Future, Lessons from the Past

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