The age of winner-take-all cities

Data: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Interactive: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For all the talk of American cities undergoing a renaissance, economic success has been concentrated in a few standout metropolises while the rest either struggle to keep up or fall further behind.

Why it matters: This winner-take-all dynamic has led to stark inequalities and rising tensions — both inside and outside city limits — that are helping to drive our politics off the rails.

  • The new and best-paying jobs are clustered in cities like San Francisco, New York and Seattle.
  • A widening chasm separates them and struggling post-industrial ones like Cleveland, Detroit and Newark.
  • And distressed areas are fading as their populations age and young workers head to coastal cities.

The top 25 metro areas (out of a total of 384) accounted for more than half of the U.S.'s $19.5 trillion GDP in 2017, according to an Axios analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

The big picture: Modern cities wield more power on the global stage than ever before, simultaneously serving as tech testbeds, policy pioneers and economic experiments.

But cities also sit at the crux of some deepening divides.

  • Cities vs. small towns: In Texas, almost all the net growth in jobs from the "Texas Miracle" went to four metros — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — while the state's poorer, smaller towns saw no growth or losses, NYT reports.
  • Cities vs. companies: San Francisco voters approved two ballot measures raising taxes on businesses to bring in as much as $500 million in tax revenue, but they're mired in ongoing court battles that may go to the state's Supreme Court, the SF Chronicle reports.
  • Rich vs. poor: Escalating housing prices are creating urban fault lines between those who can afford a home of any size and those priced out. The median home value is more than $1 million in more than 200 U.S. cities.
  • Cities vs. suburbs: Some Sunbelt suburbs are now growing twice as fast as nearby cities, WSJ reports, as millennials look for alternatives.

As some places pull ahead, the widening urban-rural gap helps drive today's political polarization.

  • "Because of this geographic divide, American elections have come to be seen as high-stakes sectional battles pitting the interests and identities of cities and inner suburbs against those of exurbs and the rural periphery," Stanford political science professor Jonathan Rodden writes in his book "Why Cities Lose."

Democrats hold majorities in dense city centers, while Republicans pick up more votes at the edge of urban cores, increasing into the suburbs and reaching majority status in surrounding rural areas.

  • Struggling areas were key to President Trump's 2016 victory, and he has criticized some of the most successful U.S. cities — where voters largely rejected him — as decaying hubs for crime, homelessness and filth.
  • "This is the liberal establishment. This is what I'm fighting," Trump recently told Fox News' Tucker Carlson. "It's a terrible thing that's taking place."

The tech industry, confronting its own winner-take-all backlash, is often the scapegoat for gentrification and out-of-control housing prices in superstar cities — particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.

  • There is a correlation between the concentration of tech startups and higher levels of wage inequality, University of Toronto professor Richard Florida points out in his book, "The New Urban Crisis."
  • Yet he also found that, while urban tech workers put pressure on real estate, the industry is also a huge driver of jobs and tax revenues.

Yes, but: Only a handful of places have reaped the benefits of the tech boom. Even Amazon's HQ2 went to top-tier locales, despite more than 200 applicants from all corners of the country.

Meanwhile: Technology is being injected into urban life at every street corner in the form of sensors, cameras, wireless antennas and data-guzzling apps galore. That could create new hurdles to equitable access to basic services.

"Technology is already challenging the very fabric of how city-dwellers interact with each other, for better and obviously also for worse. We've seen how digital tools can magnify existing inequalities and biases."
— Hollie Russon Gilman, fellow at New America Foundation

The bottom line: Economic opportunity for most Americans increasingly hinges on one factor: where you live.

Additional Stories

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Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

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Top Trump advisers discuss need to resist dangerous, unlawful orders

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Some top remaining administration officials are preparing to resist any unlawful or dangerous orders in the closing days of Trump's presidency, senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the sensitive conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: After Trump incited protesters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday, there's a near universal view among top officials that he is unfit and unhinged, these sources said.

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Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

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President Obama's former speechwriter says he's "preemptively frustrated" with President Biden's effort to find unity with Republicans.

What they're saying: Cody Keenan told Axios that Biden's messaging team has "struck all the right chords," but at some point "they're gonna have to answer questions like, 'Why didn't you achieve unity?' when there's an entire political party that's already acting to stop it."

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A Republican group is raising and spending huge amounts of money defending Sen. Josh Hawley after he was ostracized for early January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Kaine, Collins' censure resolution seeks to bar Trump from holding office again

Sen. Tim Kaine (center) and Sen. Susan Collins (right). Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are forging ahead with a draft proposal to censure former President Trump, and are considering introducing the resolution on the Senate floor next week.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction, Axios Alayna Treene writes. "I think it’s important for the Senate's leadership to understand that there are alternatives," Kaine told CNN on Wednesday.

Stark reminder for America's corporate leaders

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer is about to become only the second Black woman to permanently lead a Fortune 500 company. She starts as Walgreens CEO on March 15.

Why it matters: It's a stark reminder of how far corporate America's top decision-makers have to go during an unprecedented push by politicians, employees and even a stock exchange to diversify their top ranks.

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Credit: Apple

Spurred by strong sales of the latest iPhones, Apple reported it took in a record $111 billion in revenue for the three months ended Dec. 31, as the company crushed expectations.

Why it matters: The move showed even a pandemic didn't dull demand for Apple's latest smartphones.

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