After a week of election postmortems, one thing is clear: Mitt Romney’s failure to understand America’s changing demographics led to his undoing. But there was another killer: Geography. Deep blue cities and their inner suburbs came out for Barack Obama, pulling the president through in battleground states like Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. And they put him so far ahead in places like Wisconsin, Nevada, and Pennsylvania that Romney never really had a chance (not to mention his home base of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which went 78 percent for the president).
Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2008, Obama took cities even more convincingly, allowing him to win North Carolina and Indiana as well. But America is only growing more urban, with cities that had been losing population since the 1960s finally starting to swell again. Eventually, fast-growing blue cities like San Antonio, Houston, and Austin could bring even the GOP stronghold of Texas within the Democrats’ reach. In the long term, the stakes are high: Republicans could be relegated to permanent minority party status.
“One of two things will eventually happen,” says Columbia University professor Ester Fuchs, who’s served as an advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Either [the GOP] will change from the inside and transform, because it will lose its ability to create a majority coalition over time. Or, if the Republican Party doesn’t recognize the demographic shifts, they will disappear as one of the major parties.”
The United States, traditionally a land of immigrants, is on the verge of historic change, with non-Caucasian Americans poised to become the majority in the coming decades. Obama’s recent victory has already shown how demographic shifts will change the political landscape.
Estrada Courts, a small housing project in eastern Los Angeles, looks about as Hispanic as half of southern California today. The symmetrical rows of low-income housing along East Olympic Boulevard, a 10-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, are home to immigrants from Latin America, especially Mexico, but also El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Laundry flaps in the wind on long clotheslines between the buildings, barbecue grills used to make churrasco, Latin American grilled meat, stand in front of the doors, and when school is out large numbers of children play outside. Spanish is the language they speak at home. The elaborate murals painted in bright colors on bare walls in the area tell the story, in their own way, of why Mitt Romney couldn’t win the 2012 presidential election in the United States.
Estrada Courts, a development of 414 residential units in two- and three-story row houses, was built in the 1940s, and was soon filled with war veterans and their families. The residents those days couldn’t have imagined that the walls would once be decorated with ornate images of the Virgin Mary, kitsch from the Cuban Revolution, complete with pictures of Che Guevara, and all the other brightly-colored art of Chicano painters.
Until the 1960s, the surrounding neighborhood of Boyle Heights was far more mixed and less Hispanic than it is today. Jewish immigrants lived there, as did a large Japanese community. There were immigrants from Yugoslavia, Armenia, Russia and even a few Irish.
Bit by bit, they moved away to better neighborhoods, were displaced by urban renewal projects or simply died off, leaving behind no or too few descendants, and Mexicans moved in to fill the vacuum. They came across the nearby border in growing numbers, legally or illegally, searching for a new and better home. Today, about 100,000 people live in Boyle Heights, and 95,000 of them have Hispanic roots. President Barack Obama’s reelection was decided in places like Boyle Heights.
Few communities have started to think long term about how to plan and redesign services for aging Baby Boomers as they move out of the workforce and into retirement.
Lyvonne Ziegler works packaging meals for the homebound March 8 at LifeCare Alliance in Columbus, Ohio. Demographic shifts have left Ohio with one of the oldest workforces in the country.
Even more troubling, dwindling budgets in a tight economy have pushed communities to cut spending on delivering meals to the homebound and shuttling folks who can no longer drive to grocery stores and doctor’s offices.
These cuts, advocates for older Americans say, are coming when the services are needed more than ever. And those needs will grow tremendously over the next two decades.
The nation’s population of those 65 and older will double between 2000 and 2030, according to the federal Administration on Aging. That adds up to one out of every five Americans — 72.1 million people.
Just eight years from now, researchers say, a quarter of all Ohio’s residents in half of the state’s counties will be 60 or older. Arizona and Pennsylvania project that one in four of its residents will be over the age of 60 by 2020.
“The bottom line is, the Baby Boomers are hitting,” Chuck Gehring of LifeCare Alliance, an agency serving seniors in central Ohio, told The Columbus Dispatch. “Are communities prepared for this? No.”
Six years ago, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging said less than half of cities it surveyed at the time were preparing to deal with the needs of older folks. It said the results “should serve as a wake-up call for communities to begin planning now.”
By John Quilter, The Columbus Dispatch via AP
R.J. Pinkerman, 79, has lunch with his wife, Nina, on March 8 at Carrie’s Cafe at the LifeCare Alliance building in Columbus, Ohio.
Five years later, the Washington, D.C.-based group revisited the survey and found little had changed. There was still a great need for transportation and housing for aging boomers, it said.
“There are a lot of communities that recognize they need to do something but haven’t done it yet,” Sandy Markwood, the group’s chief executive officer, told the Associated Press.
Some of the changes cities can make include offering training to help older people drive more safely, installing road signs that are easier to read or creating ride-share programs, said Jo Reed, who oversaw the latest survey.
The biggest reason why cities have made little progress is the economy.
Nearly 21,000 times last year, drivers for the Licking County Aging Program in Ohio took elderly residents in communities east of Columbus to medical appointments. The gasoline bill has more than doubled in the past four years, topping $7,000 a month.
“With federal funding for these programs very flat, the burden is on local communities,” Dave Bibler, the agency’s executive director, told The Dispatch.
Segregation of African-Americans in cities and towns across the United States has dropped to its lowest level in more than a century, according to a recent study.
The Manhattan Institute report, released two days before the start of Black History month, points to federal housing policies, changes in public perception and demographic shifts since the 1960s that have helped integrate the nation.
Still, America’s social and income disparities remain, it adds.
“We thought about racial inequality and thought that neighborhoods had something to do with it,” said economist Jacob Vigdor of Duke University, who co-wrote the study with Edward Glaeser of Harvard University at the New York-based conservative think tank.