November | December 2014

 

 

 


Look for a ‘Bumpy Ride’ in 2012

By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
In 1950’s “All About Eve,” Bette Davis utters the famous quote: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” With how fractured the country is and the continuing toll being taken by the aftermath of the Great Recession, state and national lawmakers might want to think about fastening their own seatbelts.
That was the message of Dante Chinni, one of the authors of “Our Patchwork Nation,” who spoke at The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting in Indianapolis July 19.
Although states tend to think of themselves as individual entities, Chinni said, it’s not that simple. Using a wide variety of data, Chinni and his colleagues have broken America down into 12 different types of communities. Service worker centers, for instance, are small towns that have been hit hard with the loss of small manufacturers, are not necessarily agricultural, but are reliant on people from wealthier areas to spend money on tourism.
“These places have been hit particularly hard,” Chinni said. “… There are a lot of them in the Midwest. I think economically, going forward, these places are a big challenge and we’ve got to figure out how to handle them as a country.”
Swing states also are home to many service worker center areas, Chinni said, and their political allegiance is up for grabs.
“Nearly every state has about 10 percent or more of their population in those areas,” he said. “… These places end up being very important. They tend to vote conservative, they’re culturally conservative, they don’t like big government, they don’t like big cities very much. But they will switch their vote. Their vote is up for grabs and they’ve been hammered in the recession. Their vote is going to be very important in 2012.”
Chinni believes manufacturing jobs will not be coming back to the U.S. and those that remain will require fewer workers who will need more education to be able to operate increasingly complex machinery. The biggest chance for economic growth, he said, is in areas called college and careers. These communities are centered around a university, have unemployment rates lower than the national average, have a lot of young people, an educated workforce and have ridden out the recession fairly well.
Chinn said the Midwest has a big advantage: It’s home to Big 10 universities.
“That’s something to really work off of. There’s a lot of intellectual capital in those places,” he said. “If I were in the Midwest, I would take the leading one or two universities and do what I can to build business around them. I would build as much as I could of my economic base around these centers of higher learning.
“… The economy is not fixable. We’re in the midst of a long decade trying to figure out where we’re going. The thing that does make sense is you’ve got to fund education. It’s the only thing you can do.”
Chinn said policymakers should remember the public is angry. In six of the 12 types of communities that make up the “Patchwork Nation,” the median family income has shrunk from 1980 to 2010. This will eventually lead to a populist movement, he said, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since they often can become “really weird.”
“They can be isolationist; they can be nativist,” he said. “I don’t think the Tea Party is a real populist movement yet. …  Something is coming, I just don’t know what it’s going to look like yet.”

 

 

‘Patchwork Nation’ Communities

 

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