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The Economy's Booming In North Texas. So Why Isn't Growth More Inclusive?


North Texas is experiencing an economic boom, but just how inclusive is that growth? That's the focus of a new report by Cullum Clark, director of economic growth at the George W. Bush Institute.

"We're concerned with the idea that increasingly there are big swaths of the city where upward mobility isn't working very well," Clark said. 

Interview highlights

On what inclusive urban growth means:

At the Bush Institute, we've started a whole line of work that begins with a simple premise: An economy that really works lifts people up. It creates upward mobility for as many people as possible.

We've introduced a new idea to our work, and that is that cities have historically been the most powerful engines of upward mobility ever invented by humanity. We need our cities to work. Cities are where people traditionally go to seek a better life. And the Dallas-Fort Worth area has been lifting up many lives. It's actually been a phenomenal economic success story that's widely known.

However, we're concerned with the idea that increasingly there are big swaths of the city where upward mobility isn't working very well, areas of concentrated poverty, and we're talking about a lot of people living there.

» RELATED | Go to KERA's One Crisis Away project, which focuses a spotlight on North Texans living on the financial edge

So, we're really thinking very much at the national level. But Dallas is, I think, an interesting case study on how to revive the engines of upward mobility here and in other great American cities.

On Dallas being one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in America:

Of all of the metro areas that exceed one million people — there's 53 such cities in the United States — we are the seventh most economically segregated.

What we've seen over the last several decades is that racial segregation has declined somewhat in Dallas and in all big American cities. But at the same time, economic segregation is growing. In Dallas, we have a particularly high degree of economic segregation, a really stark bifurcation of our city into the have areas and the have-not areas.

On the biggest challenge to inclusive urban growth in Dallas:

There is a powerful nexus between housing and opportunity. But Dallas has been moving in the other direction. That poses a fundamental challenge to the whole economic sustainability of the city, and it poses a particularly "Dallas" kind of challenge.

Places like New York and San Francisco have housing affordability problems on steroids, way beyond even ours. If I was the mayor of Dallas, I wouldn't trade away my hand for the hand that's been dealt to the San Francisco in New York mayors. They face even bigger challenges. But to some degree, their economies can kind of take it. 

The Dallas economy was built on affordability. It was really built on the idea that this is a place where you can actually manage to buy a home and achieve some semblance of the middle class American dream.

And if we get away from that, we're going to have a major sustainability problem for our economy, and the huge numbers of people pouring into the Dallas area won't want to as much if they can't afford to live here. 

Cullum Clark is the director of Economic Growth at the George W. Bush Institute.

These interview highlights were edited for clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.