The USA Is Much Bigger Than New York and San Francisco -- Combined

I'd like to throw an idea out here that a popular narrative is false. The narrative I'll put together is a collection of ideas:

  1. Rent in NYC/SF/similar places is skyrocketing.
  2. Increasing urbanization is requiring Americans to move into cities to get the good jobs. <Anecdote about fashion designer moving to NYC and only affording rent thanks to her parents goes here.>
  3. National median wages, not to mention journalist salaries, are not remotely keeping up with NYC rents. <Anecdote about low skill worker leaving SF.>
  4. <Anecdote about homeless people in SF goes here>

I will argue that this narrative is false for the US as a whole, even if it is reasonably accurate for journalists and techbros specifically. The only reason we accept this narrative is because many of us are techbro/techbro adjacent and our knowledge of the outside world is filtered through journalists.

This narrative is true in NYC and SF. Journalists in NYC (the place most of them aspire to be in) have experienced huge increases in cost of living and no corresponding pay increase. If their parents were also in NYC they could certainly afford a much larger apartment, just as anyone in Detroit can afford all the living space they want today.

Techbros in SF - as well as non-coders at tech companies who are more likely to contribute to the narrative - have also experienced the malthusian scarcity of chasing jobs in a place where housing is illegal.

However the US is not NYC/SF Bay Area. As far as the experience of the average American goes, these areas are becoming less relevant. Between 1970 and today these areas have barely increased in population (18.5 million to 22.1 million) and decreased from 8.4% of the US to 6.6%.

People are moving to cities for work and amenities. But the cities people move to are not the ones popular in narrative - the cities with the largest numeric increase in population over the past 10 years were Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio. The top 15 list does include NYC, just between Ft. Worth and Charlotte.

Southern and Western Regions Experienced Rapid Growth This Decade

When looking at the cost of living, hourly wages increased 33% over 10 years whereas owner equivalent rent in cities increased 31%.

Hourly wages nationwide wages are in fact keeping up with rent. The houses available to buy or rent have gotten better in basically every quantitative respect - more square feet, more rooms and more amenities (like a washer/dryer). I will ignore discussions of architecture for the purpose of this post [1].

On basically every economic dimension we are doing better than in the past. This fact just can't enter the narrative because the people who filter our narratives live in a very different world.

[1] My understanding, based on responses to Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again, is that architectural criticism is racist and therefore cannot be part of the narrative. So I will leave it out as a distraction.