The little Elizabeth Warren bubblet this week reminded me of when I first heard of her, when I was watching the indie documentary “Maxed Out" in the dingy Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco back in 2007. Never did I imagine that 7 years later she’d become the heart and soul of the party most likely to win the presidency in 2016.
Inequality and hence Warrenism has become all the rage, and while after 3-4 decades I believe inequality has begun to reverse over the past 1-2 years, its political impact will be felt for many years to come.
That being said, there are growing economic and social pressures for a new political movement that being at the vanguard of the Millennial generation makes one acutely aware of.
Those pressures involve housing, which always involves race, and leads into a broader discussion about scarcities for the things that Millennial families need and some amount of political action is necessary to provide.
As the employment market continues to tighten, wage growth accelerates, as does household formation, brought about by the largest vintages of Millennials (currently age 21-23). This will put more and more pressure on the housing and rental markets.
The housing market is ill-equipped to provide the things that Millennials want. In global megacities it’s too expensive, there’s not nearly enough single-family housing, existing residents are uncomfortable with more construction, and in many cases the school systems are poor. In maturing Sunbelt metropolises the cheap/available single-family housing has a combination of awful commutes and/or exists in “socioeconomically undesirable neighborhoods,” and large scale transportation infrastructure improvements in a best case are a decade or more away. In Rust Belt and/or somewhat-forgotten mid-sized cities the housing stock is generally poor, and the job market is still transitioning from the manufacturing age into the global age. And in all cases construction workers are in short supply even at the present level of single-family construction.
I didn’t mention how race fits in. With job centers increasingly in urban cores, commutes become more and more important. Most urban cores are built out, so the only way to build new urban core housing tends to involve tearing something down. In many cases, this means low income housing mostly occupied by black and Hispanic families, and/or older neighborhoods that have been predominantly black for decades. After enough low income black and Hispanic families get displaced by young, wealthy, predominantly white families, it would be easy to see how this could become a bigger political issue in the future as non-whites become a growing part of the electorate. Additionally, as these wealthier families move into traditionally non-white neighborhoods, school quality becomes of more importance, and in many cases creating new charter schools to fit the needs of these families becomes easier than reforming existing schools, another friction point between new and existing residents.
Housing availability (build vs NIMBY), commutes (highways vs transit/bike lanes/walkability), schools (public reform vs charter), and neighborhood conflict (wealthy Millennials vs older blacks/Hispanics) — these are the issues that cities and metros are currently wrestling with, and will bubble up into national politics over the next decade.
Watch those Millennials born between 1991-93 (currently 21-23) — as they exited their college years we finally hit mainstream (some would say peak) walkable, mixed-use, apartment-led construction and development. As they approach age 30 their needs and wants will put more and more pressure on the political system.