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Making Dallas Even Better

Forget Subsisting at Poverty Level — What’s a Decent Life in Dallas Cost?

Over on real estate blog Candy’s Dirt, Jon Anderson spent some time with a Family Budget Calculator recently updated by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank. It uses market-specific date to estimate the income necessary for living in various cities not just at the subsistence level of the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four) but at a standard of living that most of us would consider a bare minimum to, as Anderson puts it, “live like a human” with (according to EPI’s guidelines) “structurally safe, and sanitary rental housing of a modest nature with suitable amenities,” “nutritionally adequate diets,” as well as adequate health care coverage and meeting transportation needs.

Those numbers:

$5,096 monthly ($61,150) for a two-parent, two-child household

$4,458 monthly ($53,492) for a single-parent, two-child household

You can adjust the calculator to see other household arrangements as well, but the bottom line is that minimum-wage work doesn’t come anywhere near these levels. Even the median household income in Dallas County is just $49,481, with 19.5 percent of people living below the poverty line. Anderson notes:

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Millennials Are Better Off in Denton and Collin Counties

That’s as compared to the U.S. and Texas averages, as well as compared to their counterparts with the misfortune to call Tarrant or Dallas counties home. The Census Bureau’s recently released tool for determining how much worse off people ages 18-34 are now — as opposed to 1980, 1990, and 2000 — is a glorious form of infotainment to suck the hours right out of your morning.

In general the national trends hold true in Dallas-Fort Worth. Those born in 1982 or later now represent more than one-quarter of the nation’s population. According to these estimates, compared to past decades, the currently youngest cohort of adults are better educated — with a higher percentage of them having attained bachelor’s degrees — but make less money (with more living below poverty level) and are therefore more likely to still live with their parents and never have married.

However, most these changes are less pronounced in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area than they are state- or nationwide. The exception is income, where D-FW-A lags a tiny bit below the U.S. median.

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Visualizing Poverty Growth In Dallas

Before we head into the weekend, I thought I’d jump back into the fray after some time away from the office with a really depressing post about poverty growth in Dallas. Shall we?

I don’t have new information for you, just a new way of looking at it. The data comes from a report from 2014 put out by cityobservatory.org which looked at population change in the nation’s poorest urban neighborhoods and argued that the most pressing problem confronting our cities is not gentrification, but rather the concentration of poverty. This concentration of poverty is illustrated in a map I pointed to back in July that showed income inequality broken down by neighborhood. But now we have a new set of nifty maps by designer Justin Palmer that presents the issue in bleak, ominous tones.

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Bernie Sanders’ Warning for Billionaires: ‘Your Greed is Destroying America, and We Are Going to End Your Greed!’

They started letting people into the big Sheraton Dallas Hotel ballroom at 11:30 a.m. yesterday, 90 minutes before Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, was scheduled to show up for a campaign rally. Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” blared from the sound system as they poured in: a young white guy wearing an Obama t-shirt, a 50ish Hispanic woman in a pink cowboy hat, older Anglo men with long gray ponytails, a middle-aged black woman in a business suit. Among the early-arriving crowd near the makeshift stage was Denton-born Roy Holcomb, a 57-year-old real estate investor who’d come with his daughter Jessie Pike and her husband, David Pike, both 26-year-old Lewisville schoolteachers.

“I’ve been reading Bernie pretty hard for five years,” Holcomb said. “What got me stirred up was Citizens United. Money has just taken over, and he’s the only one calling out the banks, the Koch brothers, the corporations. The corporations do one thing: make money and eat everything in their wake. I’m the cowboy, and the Indians—the Republicans—are all around me, everywhere. My wife is a nut Fox News-hound, and I started watching Fox and thought, ‘This is propaganda.’ ” Holcomb, who said Sanders’ chief rival Hillary Clinton is “bought and paid for by the corporations—just like Jeb Bush,” added with a laugh that he had to talk his daughter and her husband into accompanying him today. Said David, choosing his words carefully: “We’re still trying to figure it out.”

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The New York Times on the Federally Subsidized Dallas Exodus

The New York Times reports on the success of an experimental housing policy the federal government rolled out in Dallas. In short, the new program offers vouchers to people who qualify for housing subsidies. That’s not new. Here’s the new bit: if the person receiving the voucher wants to move to a more expensive neighborhood, the government will give that person more money.

The thought is that by helping families move into better neighborhoods, they will have a better chance of breaking the cycles of poverty that persist in poorer parts of town. Better schools, safer neighborhoods, short commutes: in the long run it all translates into lower costs for everyone, those receiving the subsidies and the government. So far, this strategy has been proven successful, even if the program is not perfect:

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Dallas-Fort Worth Has the Worst Income Inequality by Neighborhood in the U.S.

Governing reports on a new Urban Institute report that looks at how income inequality affects neighborhoods. In short, the report demonstrates that between 1990 and 2010, wealthier neighborhoods have become wealthier, while poorer neighborhoods have become poorer, further exaggerating levels of income inequality between neighborhoods across U.S. metro areas. And the region that leads the way in this trend towards increasing neighborhood income inequality is Dallas (or, more accurately, DFW). Via Governing:

The analysis examined inequality within commuting zones, or large regions of several counties that resemble metropolitan areas. Of all commuting zones with at least 250,000 residents, those with the largest neighborhood disparities were Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The Dallas commuting zone, home to about 3.7 million residents, had the highest degree of neighborhood inequality of any area reviewed. The Urban Institute’s Rolf Pendall, who wrote the report, attributed this to the area’s extremely low average wages for poor communities, along with a regional education system that trails other parts of the country.

There are a few interesting takeaways from the study.

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Why Dallas Is a Terrible Place to Grow Up Poor — And a Great Place to Be Rich

The new study by two Harvard economists written about in the New York Times this week presents some disappointing data about Dallas County. By looking at the incomes of more than 5 million people who moved, as children, with their families in the 1980s and 1990s, they found that 20 years of growing up in Dallas County led to children who grow up in one of the poorest families (income of less than $30,000/year) earning $1,340 less in annual income than the national average. That’s better than only 19 percent of the other counties in the nation.

On the other end of the spectrum, the children of the Dallas County’s richest families (earning more than $100K/year) made $990 more annually than the average among the nation’s wealthiest — and those in the richest 1 percent of families were $1,900 better off than the average.

Dallas is hardly alone among populous counties in seeing this sort of disparity in outcomes for the rich and the poor. But note also (image above) how poorly it performs as compared to neighboring North Texas counties in serving its poorest. Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Tarrant, Ellis, and (especially) Johnson all see their kids on the lowest end of the economic spectrum do better than the national average.

So what are the causes of these differences?

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If Only Dallas Could be More Like…Minneapolis

Yesterday John Neely Bryan fielded a question about transplants coming to Dallas and wanting to make this city more like the place they came from. But this comparative disconnect works both ways. Too often I’ve heard people from Dallas comparing this city to New York, or San Francisco, or some other coastal metropolis with a larger population, older history, completely different geography, or any other number of factors that makes a comparison with Dallas a little silly. Case in point: we built a suspension bridge over our drainage ditch of a river because, you know, amazing big cities have suspension bridges.

But what if we had more modest ambitions. What if we put all of our hopes and dreams into becoming the next — that’s right — Minneapolis?

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Texas, Cotton, and Historical Insecurity: A Book Review Every Dallasite Should Read

I’m going to try to avoid cutting and pasting the entirety of Michael Ennis’ “The White Stuff” from the March issue of Texas Monthly. It offers such a compelling take on Texas economic and cultural history – with particular relevance to Dallas history – that anyone interested in this city should read the whole thing.

The column is about Sven Beckert’s new book Empire of Cotton: A Global History, which Ennis likens to last year’s surprise sensation Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty insofar as it seeks to shine new light on the inner workings of the “invisible hand” of capitalism and how that hand has shaped the world in which we live.

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Warren Buffett Recommends D Magazine to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders

Over the weekend, legendary investor Warren Buffett, the “Sage of Omaha,” released his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Each year the financial world pores over Buffett’s words as if they are tea leaves predicting the future of the world economy. And considering that Buffett is the world’s third-richest man, it’s not hard to understand why.

Well, among his advice this year: Read D Magazine.

Before I depart the subject of spin-offs, let’s look at a lesson to be learned from a conglomerate mentioned earlier: LTV. I’ll summarize here, but those who enjoy a good financial story should read the piece about Jimmy Ling that ran in the October 1982 issue of D Magazine. Look it up on the Internet.

Through a lot of corporate razzle-dazzle, Ling had taken LTV from sales of only $36 million in 1965 to number 14 on the Fortune 500 list just two years later. Ling, it should be noted, had never displayed any managerial skills. But Charlie told me long ago to never underestimate the man who overestimates himself. And Ling had no peer in that respect.

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Grocery or Big Box In Downtown Dallas? Or, Why Inequality Needs to be Part of Urbanism Conversation.

There’s an interesting tidbit on Unfair Park this morning about the possibility of a new, large-scale retailer coming to the ground floor of 1401 Elm, the largest vacant building in the Central Business District.  The Observer’s Stephen Young makes a heads-up observation. Back in January 2014, the developer of 1401 Elm requested TIF funds from the city, and the request said the project would include 25,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 40,000 square feet of office. Now, the developer has come back to the city with a revised outlook: how about just 65,000 square feet of commercial space? That, according to city staff, would allow the developer more flexibility for things like bringing in an upscale grocer to take over the building’s 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

But wait. Young points to a Dallas Business Journal article from December in which Jack Gosnell, who is brokering the retail for the site, suggests that the same space might be good for a “big box retailer or a department store.”

Cue panic. Could Sam’s Club be invading downtown too?

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Does Mike Rawlings Know He’s the Mayor of Dallas, Not Dallas-Fort Worth?

As Mike Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News editorial board recently, he’s “a numbers guy.” So anchoring all the puffery in his new mayor’s letter was one solid factoid: “According to a recent Forbes study, Dallas is now the fourth fastest-growing city in the country.” Wait, what? I mean, without even checking, I instinctively knew that wasn’t true, not by a long shot. What was this claim doing here? I had to get to the bottom of this.

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Why Young People Like Denver More Than Dallas

Stumbled on this interesting report from a few of months ago that looks at what cities attract college graduates. According to data assembled by the think tank City Observatory, “The number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.” Why is this significant? Well, because the movement of young people and the places that attract them can help provide “a map of the cities that have a chance to be the economic powerhouses of the future,” the article asserts.

The economic effects reach beyond the work the young people do, according to Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The New Geography of Jobs.” For every college graduate who takes a job in an innovation industry, he found, five additional jobs are eventually created in that city, such as for waiters, carpenters, doctors, architects and teachers.

“It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating their operations in that area and the more young people are going to move there,” he said.

So what cities will be the economic powerhouses of the future?  Not Dallas, apparently.

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