Contrast

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Consider the contrast between how the Janesville Gazette‘s publisher want his city to be seen, and how an economics reporter describes the Janesville area:

Janesville Gazette editorial, A question for Janesville to consider:

[James] Fallows and his wife learned the differences between success and failure during a 54,000-mile journey across the United States in a single-engine plane. They hopped from city to city (though didn’t pass through Janesville) and wrote several pieces for The Atlantic. We examined Fallows’ criteria and, from our admittedly biased vantage point, are happy to report Janesville meets many of them.

Perhaps the one exception is the first sign on Fallows’ list: Divisive national politics seem a distant concern. But in all fairness, how many cities have a Congressional representative who is speaker of the House? Furthermore, many locals are less obsessed about national politics than outsiders who occasionally parachute into Janesville to protest, study the city or otherwise seek attention.

Much of this attention is out of Janesville’s control, but residents and local leaders should take to heart Fallows’ assessment: “Overwhelmingly, the focus in successful towns was not on national divisions but on practical problems that a community could address. The more often national politics came into local discussions, the worse shape the town was in.”

Janesville does better with other markers on Fallows’ list. Fallows says successful cities have a downtown, and they have big plans and public-private partnerships….

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, John Schmid, Wisconsin childhood trauma data explodes myth of ‘not in my small town’:

Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Rock County falls into the highest tier of overdose deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits linked to opioids and heroin, as ranked by state health authorities….

Once solidly middle-class Rock County today harbors the state’s highest scores for childhood trauma, the deepest plunge in income since the turn of the century, and one of the most extreme drug epidemics.

Of the state’s 72 counties, Rock County is home to the fourth-highest share of single-parent households (17.6%) behind Menominee, Milwaukee and Kenosha counties (28%, 23% and 18.4%, respectively). In the last 20 years, households in the county accepting FoodShare entitlements rose 310%. In the last 15 years, childhood poverty surged 150%, the second fastest increase in the state. The rate at which babies in the county are born with opioids, heroin or other addictive drugs in their bodies more than tripled from 2013 to 2016.

“Soon, we’ll have a whole generation of grade school kids who all have in common a parent who overdosed and died of heroin,” said Janesville police officer Justin Stubbendick. “It breaks my heart to think”….

I  invite readers to read Fallows’s original Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed. (Two posts about Fallows’s article appeared here over a year ago: Part 1, Part 2.)  If there’s anyone who sees Janesville in Fallows’s article he or she needs critical assistance in reading comprehension.

For the Gazette, careful consideration looks like troublesome news from “outsiders who occasionally parachute into Janesville to protest, study the city or otherwise seek attention.”

Actual conditions – of so many in Janesville, Whitewater, Palmyra, Milton – fall below what one might expect in a successful, prosperous community.

A community cannot fix what its leaders will not acknowledge is broken.

Area Population, Properly Understood


The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin
There’s an unfortunately misleading story from the Lake Geneva Regional News, picked up uncritically at the Banner, on a population increase for Walworth County and part of Whitewater. See “Walworth County population is up — here and there.”

The story (1) cites a tiny population increase, (2) ignores relative trends entirely, and (3) leaves readers (and any policymakers ignorant enough to take the story at face value) with a false confidence in growth that’s unsupported by serious demographic assessments of the area.

1. The Tiny Population Increase. From the story, one reads that

Overall, Walworth County’s population in the past seven years has increased by more than 300 people, from a total of 102,228 to 102,590.

Other than the village of Bloomfield, the biggest sign of growth has occurred in the city of Whitewater, where the population jumped from 11,150 to 11,541 [that is, the Walworth County part of Whitewater].

For Walworth County, that’s an increase of about 0.3% (three tenths of one percent) over seven years.

(Update for WW detail: A measure for Whitewater from 2010 to 2016, using population estimates for all of Whitewater into 2016, shows growth and then decline over the last few reported years: 14,401 (2010), 14,661 (2011), 14,852 (2012), 15,052 (2013), 15,035 (2014), 14,685 (2015), 14,517 (2016).)

Imagine if one invested a dollar for seven years, and at the end of that time learned that after those many years one gained only a third of a penny.

That’s what this increase looks like. It’s the same increase that the Lake Geneva Regional News reporter describes as “the wave,” “where the population jumped,” etc.

It’s not a wave, it’s a mere trickle. It’s not a jump, it’s barely a walk.

2. The local reporting ignores relative trends entirely. On October 1, 2010, the United States population was 310,036,087; on October 1, 2017 it was 325,994,783. (Using United States Census Bureau population clock data.)

In seven years, the American population increase has been 5%, but locally in Walworth County it’s been only 0.3% . That’s an American population growth rate about 16 times larger over the same period.

Indeed, Walworth County hasn’t just grown slowly, and doesn’t just lag behind America – she is also one of the most income-unequal places in America. See Inequality in the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ Area.

3. Good Policy Requires a Good Grasp of Conditions.  For a generation, Whitewater’s policymakers have too often pushed a positive narrative, no matter how flimsy or  false (and sometimes outright dishonest) that narrative has been.

Policy based on error leads to a misallocation of resources. Policy based on obvious error is, of course, worse (as it should have been more easily caught).

Policy based on a few people’s happy-talk narrative, however, is worse than error: it’s a selfish insistence that all is well so that a few insiders can elevate themselves as the authors of supposed successes while downplaying the real and unfortunate conditions of their fellow residents.  

By insisting that all is well, those most in need are wrongly ignored. By insisting that all is well, policies that would most help those in need are wrongly ignored.

(There’s no mercenary motive in writing this: I have never contended that my own circumstances are unfortunate; on the contrary, I’ve been undeservedly fortunate. It’s a strong & necessary rejection of a lesser outlook that provides all the motivation one needs.)

It is in equal measure ridiculous and reprehensible that this small city has produced a generation of exaggerated accomplishments and under-appreciated suffering.

In our schools and at our university – among elected officials, appointed officials, faculty, and students – one should expect a better grasp of our situation than a shallow, misleading story on our area’s true conditions.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 8: Nearby)

This is the eighth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Just beyond the Whitewater proper lie several towns that form the rest of the Whitewater Unified School District. They play a key role in life within Whitewater, far beyond school policies.

A few observations:

The New Divide. Where once the main local issue was a town-gown divide within Whitewater (a divide that also represented political divisions between red and blue), the main divide now implicates small towns nearby. Whitewater proper (the city) will never be red again. The small towns nearby are likely to stay red, at least for years to come. See, Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 6: Divided).

Affinity. In many ways, remaining red voters in the city have more in common with those in the nearby towns than they do with their fellow city residents. Whitewater’s red-leaning residents (especially the aged ones) are now probably closer politically with voters in the Lima Center or Richmond Township than they are with Whitewater’s average voter. I would venture that local politicians like Stewart or Binnie would run better outside the city than in it. It’s not that they couldn’t do well in the city – it’s that they’re now ideologically closer to those outside of it. They’ve not appreciably changed, but the whole city has evolved in ways that make their politics closer to those in nearby red towns.

Chief Otterbacher’s outlook certainly fits more closely with the towns near the city than within Whitewater.

Jan Bilgen’s longtime role on Whitewater’s PFC & as a university staffer who describes the students whose careers she’s supposed to be developing as though they were almost feral children, and Jim Winship’s political influence as a college professor who fought to restrict student housing from his own neighborhood, would probably play even better outside Whitewater than in it.

(Perhaps Winship would describe himself as a progressive, but his views on student housing have been a reactionary departure from, for example, genuine progressive Thurgood Marshall’s recognition of the importance of freedom of association against housing restrictions. I’ve written previously, from a libertarian viewpoint, in support of Marshall’s view, expressed in his dissent in Village of Belle Terre v. Borass, 416 U.S. 1 (1974). SeeWhitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting from 5/10/10: Residential Overlay.)

The more conservative views outside the city have allowed, or encouraged, officials to advance red-leaning policies that would have been rejected within Whitewater proper. (District officials Runez, Parker, and Jaeger would all fall within this category – this, however, is a longer subject for another series. For now, a theory: professions of neutrality have actually advanced right-leaning policies with disregard to a majority of city residents’ views. Those internally who would normally be opposed to these policies often yield to the first belligerent reactionary they encounter. Others are co-opted with awards,, etc., and become advocates or appeasers of views they would reject if not for their easily-manipulated vanity.)

Unrequited. If those outside the city represent a more right-wing view that would fail within the city, what do they give in return for appeasement of their politics?

Not their money, to be sure: the longstanding move of retail shopping away from Whitewater shows that if those in towns nearby want to see an imposition of red views, they still take their money to places beyond Whitewater. Grocery shoppers in area towns, who once shopped in Whitewater, have shifted to other places for their needs; one of the main challenges of a co-op is simply gathering retail demand that has found satisfaction in other cities.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), and 7 (how it was supposed to be).

Tomorrow: Part 9.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 6: Divided)

This is the sixth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Years ago (in 2010), I wrote of a red-blue divide within the city, where some elections favored red-leaning voters, and some blue-leaning voters. See, Why Whitewater Isn’t a Progressive City; Why Whitewater’s ‘Conservatives’ Hold the City Tenuously.

Over time, the city proper has become more dependably blue. State and national political trends, affecting local demographics, have probably assured this result. See, The (Red) State, the (Blue) City.

Look at the last presidential election: Clinton carried the city, Trump carried the outlying towns within the area of the Whitewater Unified School District. (See, results from Walworth, Jefferson, and Rock Counties.)

Where once there was a divide between red and blue within the city, there is now a reliably blue city; the divide is now between the city and the smaller towns outside the city.

Older residents remember a more conservative city; that past won’t return. Current residents know that the towns nearby are more conservative than the city; that will stay true for the foreseeable future.

The city-towns divide represents things as they now are, and has consequences of economics, fiscal policy, education, and culture.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), and 5 (working age).

Tomorrow: Part 7 (How It Was Supposed to Be).

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 5: Working Age)

This is the fifth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

To love something truly is to see it clearly, with dry eyes. So if federal census data show that the largest group in the city – by far – is college-age residents 20-24 (5,300), and that those young residents easily outnumber traditional working-age residents (3,892), what can one say about those 25-64 year-old working-age residents? (Quick note: I’m in this age bracket.)

The first thing one can conclude is that in absolute number, they’re fewer than nearby Fort Atkinson. I’ve written on this before (see, Data Around Whitewater’s Size), but it bears repeating (data from the American Community Survey using 2015 data as the 2016 data do not have demographics by age):

Whitewater, aged 25-64: 3,892.

Fort Atkinson, aged 25-64: 6,454.

There are implications to a smaller working-age population than a student population.

When working-age residents 25-64 insist they’re the real town residents, they’re doing so only from innumeracy or arrogance: residents aged 25-64 are a demographic minority.

There’s a second implication, too: in absolute terms, the 25-64 age group isn’t so large as it presents itself.

Indeed, it’s not so relatively large within the city, or relatively compared to a nearby city.

So if there’s a claim to a superior position, that group (of which I am a part) does not have a numerical claim to superiority.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), and 4 (demographics).

Tomorrow: Part 6.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 4: Demographics)

This is the fourth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Take a look at impartial census data for Whitewater, from the federal government (using American Community Survey population estimates for 2016 now available, and otherwise 2015 measurements).

Whitewater’s is a population that’s relatively young (where student-aged residents significanty outnumber non-student adults aged 25-64), and with a significant Latino community (almost certainly larger by percentage among the K-12 population than it is among older age groups).

These disparate groups most surely don’t have the same outlook. Pretending that there’s one, common outlook is at best mistaken, at worst arrogant. Seeing the city through the eyes of a few, without a dispassionate review of the city’s demographics, isn’t a reasoned outlook.

It’s nothing more than aged beholders’ nostalgia.

Data follow —

Download (PDF, 74KB)

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), and 3 (oasis).

Tomorrow: Part 5.

Three Demographic Findings on the White Working Class

So much has been made about white working class voters since the last election, but some of the common notions about that group are wrong. Three quick points are worth making:

1. Most members of the white working class live in cities & suburbs, not rural areas. Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo explain that

While it is true that the white working class outnumbers white [college] graduates in rural America — and the election did highlight a huge urban-versus-rural divide — many of them also live in and around cities.

A Post analysis of Census data shows that there are 62 million working-class white adults living in the metropolitan footprint of a large city with a population of over 250,000. There are just 37 million white adults with bachelor’s degrees living in these metropolitan areas.

Many working-class whites might live in outlying counties, but their neighborhoods are still intimately connected with the economic and social life of the nearby city. Metropolitan areas are defined as regions in which at least a quarter of a county’s population commutes to the city or elsewhere in the metropolitan area for work.

Via If you’ve ever described people as ‘white working class,’ read this. (Underlying data from U.S. Census.)

A small town like Whitewater may have many white working class residents, but most members of the white working class don’t live in small towns like Whitewater. (The largest group of residents in Whitewater, of any demographic, would be students at our local university. Non-student residents aged 25-65, for example – working class or otherwise – are a smaller population.

2.  Working class whites (nationally) have lower church-attendance rates than other white Americans. Peter Beinart explains that

Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

Via America’s Empty-Church Problem @ The Atlantic. (Underlying data from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and W. Bradford Wilcox, Andrew J. Cherlin, Jeremy E. Uecker, & Matthew Messel, No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class.)

Sound demographics contradict the assumptions of both secular progressives and religious conservatives that secularization produces, necessarily, a more liberal population. Not at all: many supporters from this key, right-leaning Trump constituency have relatively weaker ties to religious institutions.

(This reminds of a key observation of Yair Rosenberg concerning online trolls backing Trump: they’re often nihilists.)

3.  The greatest beneficiaries of a government safety net are working class whites. Tracy Jan explains that

Working-class whites are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a new study to be released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.

The result does not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.

Via The biggest beneficiaries of the government safety net: Working-class whites @ Washington Post. (Underlyling data from Isaac Shapiro, Danilo Trisi &  Raheem Chadury, Poverty Reduction Programs Help Adults Lacking College Degrees the Most, Center on Budget and Priorities.)

Millions of working-class whites rely on public assistance programs for their well-being. There’s much to consider about how and when government should provide assistance, but it’s simply false to contend that working-class whites don’t rely on these programs.

Local discussions in Whitewater about the supposed economic cost of diversity are grounded in error: in Whitewater, significant numbers of white working-class residents certainly use these programs to their benefit. (The false local assumption: “The feedback indicated while the community valued a diverse population, there also was a recognition that there is a funding cost associated with a diverse environment, often associated with socio-economic status or a lack of educational opportunities prior to arriving in the district”.)

A policy discussion founded on this supposed ‘recognition’ is a discussion founded on an incorrect foundation (although a false foundation that may be satisfying, perhaps, to a few among the community’s majority).

Data Around Whitewater’s Size

For today, some data around Whitewater’s size, and of Fort Atkinson’s size. The 2014 data are from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey, and the 2010 and 2000 data are from the decennial census counts in those years. (In all cases, these are the data for the cities themselves, omitting surrounding towns. Adding those towns would produce a different image of Whitewater, as a commenter last night correctly noted. For now, I’m using city-only data because significant political and fiscal decisions about these cities are intra-municipality matters.)

I’ve picked total population, median age, and the age brackets from 25-64 (a traditional working age population) for today.

Whitewater Fort Atkinson
Population
2014 14801 12436
2010 14390 12368
2000 13437 11621
Median age
2014 21.7 39.2
2010 21.9 38.4
2000 21.9 36.5
2014 Age Brackets
25-34 1213 1523
35-44 888 1667
45-54 920 1734
55-59 445 1003
60-64 324 660
Total 25-64 3790 6587
2010 Age Brackets
25-34 1207 1701
35-44 1144 1673
45-54 1011 1797
55-59 397 848
60-64 375 645
Total 25-64 4134 6664
2000 Age Brackets
25-34 1134 1667
35-44 979 1910
45-54 787 1573
55-59 289 490
60-64 266 472
Total 25-64 3445 6112