I'm not sure if the cottage industry of explaining away Arizona's reality is on vacation in cooler climes or will scramble to attack this telling map that went with a story headlined: "The South is Essentially a Solid, Grim Bloc of Poverty."
Arizona Territory sent a delegate to the Confederate Congress throughout the War Between the States, so the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.
Seriously, the data come from a new report by the Census Bureau of people living in "concentrated poverty areas." It digs down to the Census tract level, finding that more than 2 million Arizonans, or 33 percent, lived in tracts with highly concentrated poverty. That compares with 1.2 million, or 24 percent, in 2000. The comparable national averages were 25.7 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.
These areas have "higher crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities." They breed a feedback loop of poverty.
It's easy to blame much or all of this on the Great Recession. Arizona's dependence on the housing sector left it in a virtual depression after the collapse. There's some truth to this, but the problems go much deeper.
1. High poverty is longstanding in Arizona. From at least the late 1960s — long before the big influx of illegal "Mexicans" — the state's poverty rate was well above the national average.
For example, in 1969 it was edging close to 16 percent when the national rate was below 14 percent. A decade later, Arizona's poverty rate had fallen to slightly above 13 percent but still a percentage point above the nation.
2. Arizona had one overriding strategy: grow population. In this, it succeeded very well until lately:
Unfortunately, as regular readers here know, population brings costs as well as benefits. It does not pay for itself. Much of the state was built on the cheap, and not merely the tract houses. The infrastructure for the common good, particularly in education, did not keep up. "Drunk on growth," as Ioanna Morfessis, founding president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, put it, the state failed to sustain strategies to build, attract and maintain high-wage jobs. As a result...
3. Real median household income lagged. It didn't just fall behind peer states and the national average, but it lost ground historically. Arizona was in striking distance of matching and even besting the national average in the 1980s and the late 1990s. Then the momentum was lost. This was no coincidence: When the state was performing better, it had a more diverse economy. Once housing and spec building became the monarch of all, median household income was falling even during the height of the 2000s boom:
4. We see the same with per-capita income:
and when compared with peer states:
5. Education is one of the surest routes out of poverty — and Arizona falls short.
As you see, Arizona consistently turns in the worst performance compared with peer Western states. That means less of a native talent pool, but also lack of a high-quality economy to attract highly educated adults.
The problem is worse in K-12, where Arizona consistently turns in some of the poorest-funded schools in the nation. And it doesn't really matter if some suburban school districts have money. The overall results represent a staggering weakening of human capital. Another self-inflicted wound: the Kookocracy undoing St. Janet's signature achievement in pre-kindergarten.
6. But isn't metro Phoenix doing much better? This is a chestnut of the denialists. As one prominent figure told me a few years ago, "When you get out of Phoenix, Arizona is the Third World."
First, that doesn't make the state's situation better, either from a competitive or humanitarian standpoint. Second, Phoenix lags most of its peer metro areas in virtually every measure of quality and competitiveness. It certainly lags the world-beaters that Phoenix should — must — aspire to match.
Here's one result:
Note that these peer metros were in the same bunch in the early 1970s. A divergence began and expanded as Phoenix stuck with housing and population growth while others pursued diverse, advanced economies. Now even San Antonio, which has absorbed a huge Latino immigrant population on top of a historically poor native one, has passed Phoenix in per-capita income. (Remember all those stories during the 2000s about big gains in PCI for Phoenix — they were percentage increases tied to big population growth, but didn't translate into sustained improvement in well-being.)
So explain away. It won't change the facts. Amazingly, the Republican candidates for governor all intend to double-down on the destructive strategies that have left Arizona in such a mess. Cut taxes and regulation! Build more tract houses! Screw the city of Phoenix! Git gub'ment out of the economy! Defund "government schools."
And the people that bother to vote will probably buy it. Underneath their "master planned communities" is the Land of Cotton.