America in the economically segregated post-Bush/Clinton/Obama era —
August 12, 2020

America in the economically segregated post-Bush/Clinton/Obama era

By Sherri Greenberg

We learned much from this long presidential campaign, including that many Americans are weary of political dynasties, and that economic segregation is widespread in America. We must turn these lessons into meaningful actions with concrete results.

The Democratic and Republican parties must listen to working people and not just the echo chamber of elites. Additionally, all levels of government and society must collaborate to implement policies that help people who have been left out of our country’s economic growth.

Many Americans believe that the Bushes and Clintons represented ruling dynasties who are out of touch with the struggles of the working class. They further believe that neither the traditional Republican Party, nor the traditional Democratic Party has addressed their concerns. They wanted a change, and we witnessed this in both the Republican and Democratic primaries, and ultimately, in the general election.

The Democratic and Republican parties must actually listen to people and then make true systemic changes in each party’s infrastructure and policies to address people’s concerns.

The political parties must truly incorporate the concerns of the grass roots in policies and decisions including everything from platforms to candidate selection and financing. Committees should be formed that incorporate people starting at the precinct level to evaluate the parties’ decision making and funding.

We learned from this election that economic segregation is widespread in America, and it also fueled a desire for change. Not all Americans are sharing in the nation’s increased prosperity, and the growing economic divides are becoming sharper.

Economic segregation transcends all geographic areas, races, ethnicities and ages in America. We see economic segregation in our big cities, small towns, rural areas and suburbs. We see pronounced differences in prosperity among people within the same city, between cities, suburbs and rural areas, and across regions, across states and across the nation.

Ultimately, many people voted for a change based on their belief that the current system is leaving them behind. We no longer can just talk about economic segregation; the time for action is now.

Austin is good example of what I am talking about – economic segregation. Austin has been growing at warp speed, but not everyone is sharing in the benefits from that growth.

Austin also is one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation, and the suburbanization of poverty in the Austin area continues. However, Austin is not unique, and many cities and areas in Texas and across our country face these harsh realities.

We see wide disparities in people’s access to technology, transportation, housing, health care and education, and these disparities contribute to economic segregation and lack of prosperity. One of our biggest challenges as Americans is to bridge and close these large prosperity gaps.

We must focus economic development programs and subsidies in the areas that need them the most instead of the areas that know how to get them. We must address inequities in educational opportunities, and we must actually implement programs that train people for real jobs.

We must address the prohibitive affordable housing and transportation costs that many working Americans face by providing housing with viable transportation options that connect people to jobs.

We no longer can simply talk about ladders of opportunity. We must provide people with the technology and tools that they need to succeed in today’s economy. We must create and connect housing, transportation, health care and education and workforce opportunities for people who have been left out. By providing real ladders of opportunity for those who have been left out, we can restore the faith of many American voters in our political parties and our economy.

 Sherri Greenberg is a clinical professor and the Max Sherman Chair in State and Local Government in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.


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