Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Was 1992-2000 the Best of Times for American Urban Neighborhoods?*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Was 1992-2000 the Best of Times for American Urban Neighborhoods?*

Article excerpt

Beginning in 1992 the U.S. economy expanded for an unprecedented 120 consecutive months into the year 2001, when it began to slow down. During the 1992-2000 period, jobs increased at an annual average of more than 2.6 million, or 2.2 percent a year (U.S. Census Bureau 2000a; Hughes and Seneca 2001a, 2001b). The annual unemployment rate fell from 7.5 percent in 1992 to 4.0 percent in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau 2001). Per capita personal consumption expenditures rose from $17,800 to $21,900 in 1996 dollars (U.S. Census Bureau 2000a). The homicide rate fell from 9.3 per 100,000 people to 6.3 (U.S. Census Bureau 2000a). Pew Foundation researchers reported that 20 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do what is right always or most of the time in 1994, and the proportion increased to 39 percent by 1997 (Pew Research Center 1998, 4). Pew attributed the increasing trust to good times.

In New Jersey, the study area for this research, the economic picture was even greener. New Jersey, along with Connecticut, had the highest per capita income among states for several decades, and employment increased even more in New Jersey than in the nation as a whole, especially later in the decade. The U.S. average annual employment growth rate from December 1997 to December 2000 was 2.0 percent, compared with 2.3 percent in New Jersey. New Jersey's unemployment rate fell from 8.5 percent in 1992 to 3.8 percent in 2000. James Hughes and Joseph Seneca consider the growth during the second half of the 1990s extraordinary (2001a).

It was literally the best of economic times for the United States as a whole and New Jersey in particular, but how far into the urban fabric did the wealth penetrate? Did people perceive that their neighborhood benefited? Indirect answers to these questions can be obtained by looking at U.S. census tract and block data or by interviewing neighborhood leaders. However, neighter census data, which measure increases in housing values and rents and increasing incomes and lower unemployment rates between 1990 and 2000, nor perceptions of community leaders necessarily reflect how people perceive and value change in their surroundings. The only way to find out what people perceive is to ask them. Using New Jersey, the most urban and affluent state, as the study area, I report on research that addressed two questions: what proportion of respondents perceived that their neighborhood did not benefit much or at all during the economic expansion, and what neighborhood environmental attributes and respondent characteristics are associated with perceptions of no neighborhood benefits.

Neighborhood location should be an important indicator of expected answers. David Harvey, among others, argues that globalization has led to the creation of immense wealth in some places and poverty in others (2000). Capitalism, he contends, has further separated upper- and middle-income people and the places in which they live from poor people and their places of residence. The literature suggests that during the 1990s affluence increased more in suburbs than in inner cities. This was especially true in New Jersey, where the wealth belt is concentrated in suburban areas (Burchell, Dolphin, and Galley 2000; Hughes and Seneca 2001a). David Herszenhorn contrasts "rich states, poor cities, and mighty suburbs," pointing out the stark contrast between the poverty of some cities and the nearby "leafy affluence" of New Jersey's many wealthy suburbs (2001, 39). African Americans, Latinos, and poor people, of whom disproportionate numbers live in economically stressed neighborhoods, should be a relatively large part of the no-neighborhood-benefit group (Keating and Krumholz 1999; Metzger 2000).

Exceptions may exist. For example, some residents of stressed neighborhoods may feel better about their neighborhood because of new developments and rehabilitation, such as brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. Another exception may be suburban residents who perceive that the economic boom led to an invasion of their neighborhood by new developments that caused more traffic, resulted in loss of open space, and required them to pay higher taxes for new schools. …

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