Thursday, December 8, 2016

Welfare programs aren't popular, but universal programs are

Social security card john q public
As liberals look for a new economic message, they should keep this in mind: it is important to understand the big political difference between welfare and universal programs. Means-tested welfare is unpopular in this country, but universal programs that help everyone are very popular. This simple political reality needs to be at the core of any big, sweeping progressive economic proposal. 

Tim Duy wrote a very insightful piece in response to Trump's popularity with working class whites in the Rust Belt, which concludes with this depressing prediction:
The dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump. They make for good policy at one level and terrible policy (and politics) at another. The aggregate gains are irrelevant to someone suffering a personal loss. Critics need to find an effective response to Trump. I don’t think we have it yet. And here is the hardest part: My sense is that Democrats will respond by offering a bigger safety net. But people don’t want a welfare check. They want a job. And this is what Trump, wrongly or rightly, offers.
I fear Tim is right about the huge mistake Democrats will likely make, but he is wrong about what people really want. People in need want immediate help, but they also want dignity, security, and a path to improvement. Means-tested "welfare" as it is thought of in this country provides only the first -- immediate help. Good jobs is one way to provide all four, but so are universal programs -- such as universal basic income, universal education, and universal health care.

Means-tested welfare is often accidentally or purposely designed to strip people of their dignity by making them beg for support, prove they are truly helpless, or piss into a cup to prove they are worthy. The complex, overlapping series of programs, each with different requirements, doesn't provide a true sense of security or a path forward. Attempts to move to a better city for employment or start a business could result in a loss of welfare that would become difficult to obtain again. The CBO found low income people face a massive effective marginal tax rate because for every dollar they earn, they risk losing a significant amount of government benefits.

Compare means-tested welfare with our universal programs that are provided to everyone. Medicare and Social Security are both wildly popular. So is Alaska's Permanent Fund Dividend, which gives everyone living in the state a check regardless of income. If everyone gets the same thing, there is true security and no issue of dignity.

I suspect part of the reason Obamacare has been so unpopular is that it is a means-tested welfare program instead of a universal program. In fact, Gallup found that by far the most popular way forward with health care is to replace Obamacare with single payer system. It is significantly more popular than repealing or leaving the law in place.

The fact that our welfare programs are often called a "safety net" is ironic. Anyone who has fallen into an actual safety net should know how difficult it is to climb out of and how it is impossible to get from the safety net back to the tightrope. The best thing Democrats could do is renounce the idea of means testing. If we believe something is essential, we should make it universal.  

We are facing a new world where technological automation is going eliminate jobs at an alarming rate. We are going to need a plan. One path forward is to create jobs by mandating inefficiency. The other is to embrace the increase in productivity and use it to provide everyone a basic income, education and health care.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A New, Non-Paternalistic Progressivism: Freedom from want, ignorance and illness

"Freedom From Want" - NARA - 513539
The left wing in America is facing a three-fold economic crisis: a crisis of competency, a crisis of perception and a crisis of automation. I believe the way forward is a progressive economic agenda actively stripped of the paternalism that dominates and needlessly complicates many social safety net programs.

This progressive agenda should be based on three simple goals: Freedom from want, freedom from ignorance, and freedom from illness. It's a platform that can be achieved simply and directly with three programs: universal basic income, universal public education, and universal health care.

The crisis of competency
The left in this country rallies around the vague concepts of "helping people in need" and equal rights for all. Yet when it comes to how to "help people in need," the left has become an ideological and practical mess. A big reason why is a combination of paternalism, moralism, and a corrupt belief that the only way to build political support for new programs is to funnel the money through private corporations who can skim millions off the top.

We "help people in need" with hundreds of different programs at a federal, state, and local level that create wasteful bureaucracies full of cracks. We have programs to help people buy food if they meet certain criteria. We have a program to help people if they can’t work for certain reasons. We have programs to help low income people pay for phones. We have programs to directly help some people pay for housing under certain conditions. We have a program to help low income people buy heating oil. We also have numerous local programs to indirectly help some poor people obtain housing by forcing affordable units in new developments, or forcing people to charge artificially low rents. We have programs to subsidize transit for certain people in certain cities. The list goes on.

So much money, time, and opportunity is wasted on such a complicated system because we often don’t trust poor people to know what they really need, and we are so concerned about only the deserving getting specific types of help. I think it is time, though, for us to have more faith in people.

The crisis of automation
Since others have written extensively about this I will not go into it in detail, but we are heading for a potentially massive employment crisis because of technology. Computer processing power has been growing exponentially. It effectively means the growth in computing that took 70 years will be doubled in just about two years. Technology will likely replace employment faster than people can prepare for new jobs. The best example of this is driving. Truck driving is the number one job in most states, and within one to two decades these jobs could be made obsolete. This massive displacement is going to need an equally massive solution.

The crisis of perception
Finally, the sheer complexity of all our numerous, overlapping programs to help people has allowed elements on the right to create a perception crisis for liberals. They stoke anger among working class people and poor people, arguing that all the benefits of our system are going to “others.” These “others” are often depicted as urban minorities and immigrants. Many of these rightwing messages are based on distortions and pure misinformation, but the design of some of our programs create a small kernel of truth for these distortions to crystalize around. For example, the design of Obamacare means a rather small group of young, healthy, middle class workers is being asked to indirectly subsidize a significant portion of the coverage expansion. Additionally, the way some programs are designed to provide equal outcomes means that poor people in more expensive urban areas can end up getting more government assistance than those in cheaper rural areas, strangely punishing those for living in more affordable areas.

Winning this argument takes aggressive counter-messaging by progressives, but it is a task that would be made dramatically easier if our programs were greatly simplified and made universal. Instead of a hundred programs to help a hundred differently defined groups, we had one program to help everyone. We need to only look at the difference in popularity between Obamacare and Medicare. It takes about two minutes to explain Medicare and how it will affect any person. Obamacare could take hours to explain.

The solution: Freedom from want, freedom from ignorance, and freedom from illness
Replacing nearly all of our safety net programs with a universal basic income would free people from want and worry. A modest, guaranteed income would let everyone meet their basic needs and give them the freedom to choose how. It's a system that would let the market decide how best to use resources to help people. Basic universal income will deal with the crisis that will be caused by automation, and it is a relatively simple concept for progressives to explain.

There are, though, a few instances where counting on the market or personal agency to make the best decisions for people won’t work. This requires two big additions to universal income. The first is education. People need to be educated to make sound decisions. Guaranteed basic education (including college) addresses this and helps prepare more people for a society where automation means there will be less need for low-skilled workers.

The second is health care. It is so essential, but the imbalance of information -- and the simple fact that there is no price people won’t agree to pay in a crisis to try to save the life of their loved ones -- means there will always be a market failure. Looking around the First World, there are numerous ways to provide universal health care for a fraction of what we currently spend. I would be happy with almost any of these systems but for simplicity would prefer something like Medicare for all. The important thing is that, like universal income, it be truly universal -- no means testing, and no weird regionally-based, sliding scale cost-sharing subsidies that would basically penalize poor people for working harder.

This is what left needs: an economic policy with broad appeal that can easily be explained and is easy to implement. It takes only nine words to explain the purpose and nine words to explain the programs.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Does the Democratic Party even want to win?

Senate in session
Watching the post-election behavior of the Democratic Party, I’m left wondering if the party ever really wants to win. While it seems crazy to question Democrats’ desire to win, they are not at all behaving as one would expect a group to when faced with a seriously unfair system. They are sure not behaving like a party that lost solely because of arcane rules, even after winning the popular vote for President, House and Senate. There are numerous things the Democratic Party could do to fix this situation, but so far they haven’t even tried.

Electoral College
Twice in my modest lifetime, the arcane and idiotic electoral college has denied the presidency to the person that the most Americans voted for. Yet the Democrats have made no serious party commitment to eliminating this unpopular institution. Even though making the electoral college a relic of the past could probably be accomplished for less than 1/20 of what was just spent on the Clinton campaign, the party has yet to step up.

The growing urban-rural divide continues to push the Senate towards favoring the Republicans. One step could both address this imbalance and fix the injustice in the District of Columbia, where more than 600,000 people pay federal taxes without representation: granting D.C. statehood. Yet when faced with the opportunity to do just that in 2009, President Obama instead went out of his way to ignore the issue.

House of Representatives
The House is the branch of government which was specifically designed to most closely reflect the public, but in the past several elections it has failed terribly at this task. Thanks to the fact that Democratic voters are increasingly being packed into districts, the Republicans can win control of the House with dramatically fewer votes, which makes a mockery of our democracy. There are numerous ways to solve this problem with multi-member districts, but as of yet there is no real push in the Democratic Party for any of them.

Third Parties
Again, twice Democrats have complained that votes for third party candidates cost them an election (although I question the idea that Gary Johnson voters would have gone for Clinton). Yet the party has done almost nothing to fix the problem. The recent success of Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting Initiative shows there is real way to deal with it.

The future looks bleak for Democrats
Being a futurist is about looking past the current moment to try to predict how all big trends will fit together. Democrats have long comforted themselves with projections that a growing Hispanic population will secure their future, but they have ignored all the other trends going against them.

The reurbanization of America has created real problems for Democrats, and these problems are likely to grow. As more people live in large cities, it becomes easier to gerrymander districts to pack all of the Democrats into just a few districts. It means the Senate and the electoral college will continue to skew Republican. In the recent presidential election, Trump gained the most in the rural places where the population has been declining. If the trend continues, the gap between how people vote and who wins could grow much worse.

Structural reform may not seem like the sexiest issue, but pushing the fact that the system is rigged and unfair can truly galvanize people. It worked for Trump and the Republicans when they complained about “voter fraud,” even when it wasn’t real. If Democrats want to win, they need to advocate for what it takes to win, and so far they haven’t.

These rule changes would help Democrats in the mid-term, but they are not a guarantee of holding power forever. The pendulum of American politics will continue to swing; these changes would just mean that it wouldn’t take a massive swing the left to put Democrats in power. It would also force the GOP to eventually change their message to help address the needs of an increasingly urban population.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Donald Trump's Obamacare Replacement Plan: The least bad possible outcome

Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped)
To be clear, this is not what I want to see happen to our nation's health care system; it is only what I think is the most optimistic possible outcome based on the current political climate and the statements Donald Trump has made. What I've laid out below is the best Obamacare replacement plan that I think would be politically feasible and still largely consistent with Trump's principles/statements. The one small silver lining is that Trump’s statements on health care have been consistently to the left of most top Republicans. 

1) Block grants Medicaid if states provide coverage for most everyone under 100-200% federal poverty line

Under this plan, states would have much wider latitude for how to design their Medicaid program and get federal funding as long as they provide some form of coverage to most of the people under the poverty line. This does two things. It allows Republicans to claim the moral victory that they went with a “state-based approach.” It also means they avoid the political problem of kicking people off their current insurance. The ACA's Medicaid expansion has been responsible for the bulk of the people who gained coverage from the ACA, and the insurance industry is not really interested in having these people as customers.

To sweeten the deal for the GOP, the plan could halt federal funding for K-12 education and instead use that money to pick up more Medicaid costs. This would give states more freedom to set up their own education policies. It would also allow the GOP to say they gutted the Department of Education and reduced federal meddling in education.

2) Create a program for the sickest and most expensive people outside the individual market

There are two easy ways to lower the cost of insurance on the individual market. One is to offer subsidies, like the ACA does, while the other is to remove the sickest (i.e., costliest) people from the market. A small percentage of the absolute sickest people account for most of the health care spending. There are a few ways to remove these people from the pool.

The Trump plan could place everyone with, say, the 10 most expensive conditions into a new, heavily subsidized, state-based “high risk pool” program. Or it could give these young, very sick people access to Medicare. There is precedent for this. Currently, regardless of your age, if you have kidney failure you can qualify for Medicare. Or the plan could say that if a person's total health care spending exceeds $X, they are “effectively poor” and thus eligible for Medicaid while getting to keep their current income. Alternatively, the Trump plan could offer a new government super-catastrophic program that would pay for anyone's medical bills once they go over $200,000 a year.

This might not save money overall, but it could if it moved the sickest people to cheaper government programs like Medicaid/Medicare that pay lower reimbursement rates. Mostly, though, it would reshuffle money that was being used for direct ACA subsidies into more indirect subsidies. The political benefit is that it would technically reduce the offical premiums on the individual market, giving the GOP a great talking point.

3) Allow insurance to be sold across state lines if they meet federal standards

The Trump administration could create minimum federal standards for what insurers must cover, and if they meet these standards they can sell in any state. The standards would likely be stingier than the ACA's, so this means worse plans but also lower premiums. Picture something like catastrophic coverage with HSA's. This will let the GOP claim they brought premiums down and created competition.

4) Tax credits

Rather than income-adjusted subsidies as they do now, everyone else on the individual market would get a flat tax credit to buy private insurance. These tax credits could only be used for plans that meet the new, more lax federal minimum standards.

5)  No more

The plan would also get rid of the site. People would just shop for health insurance like they do for homeowners or auto insurance. This would give the GOP a clear way to illustrate that they killed “Obamacare.” Replacing the highly structured ACA subsidies with a simpler flat tax credit will eliminate the main need for the website.

6) Replace the individual mandate with strong nudges

The individual mandate was the least popular part of the ACA, buts its function of encouraging healthy people to sign up for insurance can be replaced with other, less politically toxic options. One is automatic enrollment. The plan could automatically sign people up for the lowest price option in their area if they fail to choose a policy on their own. People could always choose to opt-out, but people are lazy.

The plan could also have a back-premium penalty. If you sign up after the open enrollment period or end up in the hospital without coverage, you'd be forced to pay several months of back-premiums to your chosen insurer.

Net result

The result of all of these policies would be a health care program similar enough to the ACA to prevent a broad political backlash of millions becoming uninsured. At the same time, it looks different than the ACA, appears more state-centric and friendlier to "free market" forces, potentially appeasing the Republican party.

You would see worse insurance policies on the individual market but also likely lower premiums. You might see slightly fewer people with what counts as “insurance” but not enough that it would be a major disruption resulting in thousands of bad headlines. Many people would probably end up with insurance they can’t really afford to use, but that is already a problem under the ACA.

This is, of course, the best case scenario. The worst case is the GOP destroys most of the ACA without any replacement, turning a bad system into a hopelessly crippled system dying under its own weight. The result would be millions losing Medicaid, millions losing insurance, and a market made into an even bigger mess.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My marijuana reform predictions are doing very well

Last night my predictions for the presidential election were way off (so were those of every data-driven election prognosticator), but my marijuana reform predictions have done very well. I wrote three years ago in my book After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy:

2016 – This is the year the tidal wave is going to hit. If current polling trends hold, national support for marijuana legalization should rise to well over 60 percent by 2016. Marijuana reform groups are already planning to take advantage of this presidential election year to make their big push. There are likely to be ballot initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. If a well-crafted initiative makes the ballot in these states, they are almost guaranteed to pass. As of 2013, local polls showed there is already majority support for legalization in all five of these states, and support should continue to grow over the next three years.

Of these states, I suspect the biggest impact of legalizing marijuana will come in Massachusetts. California, Colorado, Washington, and Nevada all have relatively self-contained metro
areas—relatively few people commute daily across their borders. Massachusetts, on the other hand, borders five other states, all of which have significant populations close to the Massachusetts
state line. In about 30 minutes, you can drive from Manchester, N.H.; Providence, R.I.; Hartford, CT; Bennington, VT; or Albany, N.Y., to the Massachusetts border. The majority of people in New Hampshire and Rhode Island live less than an hour from the state. Legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts would make it foolish for the rest of New England to keep it illegal. All these other states have already decriminalized possession, so the real question they will face is whether they’ll
let the tax revenue flow to Massachusetts just to maintain an unpopular prohibition that has clearly failed.

With marijuana legalization on so many ballots during a presidential election year, including the potentially important swing state of Nevada, the major-party candidates will be forced to address the issue. I don’t expect a major presidential candidate to fully endorse legalization that year, but the politics of the situation will likely force them to publicly favor a hands-off approach by federal agencies. Neither party can risk pissing off young voters, and promising to leave states alone is very popular with both the Democratic and Republican base. This is the kind of half-solution, designed to try to please everyone without directly committing to anything, that politicians in tough elections are drawn to like moths to a flame.

National support for marijuana legalization hit exactly 60 percent in last month's Gallup poll.

Marijuana legalization initiatives were on the ballot in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. These legalization measures won in every state but Arizona.

In addition, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton endorsed marijuana legalization but both took a hands-off position when it comes to state legalization efforts. During the campaign, Trump said, "In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."

I also predicted that Canada would legalize marijuana in 2017 and that is looking increasingly likely.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The amazing way to predict this election

I'm going to make a decidedly cautious prediction for the 2016 election: the candidates currently ahead in the polling averages are going to win.

While I could do my own polling average, there is no need since RealClearPolitics has been putting together a great one for years. I predict Clinton will win the presidency with 304 electoral votes, and Democrats will end up with 49 Senate seats. So when I get over 90% of states right with this prediction, I want everyone to say how amazing my skills are like they have done for other election prognosticators that claim to use far more complex analytical models.

This post is not meant to simply knock places like 538 for repacking readily available data in a more interesting format. It's mainly to point out how great polling is. There is a reason polling is a multi-million dollar industry full of highly respected organizations and used by so many different industries. There is a reason every political campaign uses polling extensively.

Don't get me wrong -- places like 538 and The Upshot are going to be very accurate next week because polling is so accurate. It will be basically impossible to know if their more complex analyses are actually better because they will diverge so little from the basic polling averages. For example, in both 2008 and 2012 a basic polling average correctly predicted the presidential outcome in 49 out of 50 states.

I bring this up because I think it is relevant to futurism and all predictions. We shouldn't be focused on how the predictions are presented. We should focus on the real sources behind them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Has free trade hindered our utopian future?

There are some futurists who believe the “end state” of our economic development is a post-toil society of abundance. The idea is that advanced automation will make it so no one will need to work, like the society in Star Trek. People will still have careers but for the love of the work, a sense of accomplishment, or a passion for science. Such a society would not only bring peace, universal prosperity, and the end to economic uncertainty, it would also likely cause a flourishing of science, art, and creativity. If you believe it would be a major boon to humanity and the best utilitarian course for any country to reach this post-toil society as soon as possible, then anything delaying the development of automation is bad. Yet many of our free trade deals have arguably done just that.

Even if you fully accept all the main arguments in favor of free trade--that on net, it benefits the world by bringing much needed jobs to low income countries and cheaper goods to high income places-- it is hard to argue some deals haven’t hurt automation.

It makes little sense to invest in automated sewing technology when free trade deals have for decades let companies pay garment makers less than $100 a month by moving from one country to the next. If the United States had large clothing tariffs, it would have increased clothing costs for all Americans for years and there may have been fewer jobs in some poor countries, but it would have likely encouraged companies to invest significantly more in garment production automation.

Japan is the example which best proves this point. The country has some of the toughest immigration laws, lowest birth rates, and a fairly protectionist mentality towards certain industries. So it is no surprise they are leaders in robotics. Japan is proof that if you remove the option of simply trying to find lower-cost workers, companies will respond by investing in automation.

If certain free trade deals ended up delaying the West, for decades, from developing the technology for a post-toil society and quickly providing it to the rest of the world, in the long-term those deals should be seen as a big net negative for humanity. Their short-term benefits would not outweigh the massive gains of achieving this goal. Of course, it is possible these trade deals might improve the economy in some poor countries, enabling more people in those countries to go into the sciences and help achieve this end state. However, we won’t really have any good idea of this until/unless we reach the post-toil society.

I find this to be an interesting thought experiment because it shows that even if economists supporting free trade have been completely right in their analysis, they could still be making a mistake because they didn’t ask the right question. That is what I like about futurism. It is not about just asking what might happen next -- it is about trying to figure out what will happen after what happens next.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rent control and the political dynamic

Often discussion of rent control focuses on the economic impact, but I feel the dramatic change this policy creates in a neighborhood's political dynamic can be more important.

In growing cities without rent control, you have opposing sides shaping policy on development: The pro-density and anti-density sides.

Long term homeowners make up a big part of the anti-density side. People tend to oppose change in general, and this is especially true when change appears to have few benefits. For long-term homeowners, the downsides of new density are readily apparent: more traffic, more construction noise, more people using parks, less sun, more “lesser” people in their neighborhood.

On the other side, you'll find the main pro-density groups: There are developers who want to build and local business that want more customers -- while this group has money, it's not very big. There are also non-local people who want to move to the neighborhood, but given the design of our political system they often have no influence. Instead, the biggest politically influential group in favor of more density tends to be current renters. While more density also means more traffic and more construction noise for renters, it also means lower rent and more rental options-- which is most important to them. This can be a self-feeding loop. Density-friendly policies should lead to even more density-friendly policies as the percentage of renters grows.

The Portland survey on their infill proposal shows this. While it is a self-selecting survey, the findings are still telling. It found: “The most significant differences among demographic groups were between homeowners and renters, particularly concerning housing types. More than 70 percent of renters felt all proposed changes related to housing types were moving in the right direction, while homeowners were more divided. Renters were also more supportive of applying diverse housing types more broadly throughout the city than homeowners.

Rent control divides renters

Rent control, however, splits renters in two politically. Long-term renters who have no plan on moving start to think more like homeowners. For them, more density means more traffic and construction noise with no upside. If anything, they become even more opposed to new development since they have no financial reason to want land values to go up, and allowing new development could mean their rent-controlled apartment building is torn down.

Renters who hope to move in the future --because they are having a kid or hope to buy a house, for instance -- still have a reason to support development, but this is a much smaller political group. It is also a group less likely to be involved in local politics. Splitting renters into these two political groups can shut down the cycle of density-friendly policies.

While rent control does change the investment dynamics surrounding a new building, that is a relatively minor change compared to the dramatic political shifts it creates. It's a policy that shifts the political dynamic around density dramatically to one side.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The future of delivery drones is on wheels

While much attention has been paid to the the idea of Amazon's flying delivery drones, the real future of drones is much closer to Earth. I firmly believe that the vast majority of delivery drones in the future will travel along the ground, a trend that's just starting thanks to Starship Technologies. From Recode:
Starship Technologies, an Estonia-based startup created by two Skype co-founders, Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, is slated to begin testing its autonomous delivery robot to bring groceries and restaurant takeout to Washington, D.C., homes and businesses this fall. It’s the first U.S. municipality to approve ground-based robots to roll around on city sidewalks.
Starship hopes to solve the “last mile” problem –– the work of getting packages from the fulfillment center directly to people’s homes — currently done by humans. It’s a problem Amazon wants to solve with drones, but the FAA’s rules bar drones from flying around humans without an operator in line of sight. But with ground-based delivery, Starship’s founders say, there’s less that can go wrong.
Basically the only advantage a flying delivery drone has over a delivery drone on wheels is that it can travel in a straight line and theoretically will deal with fewer obstacles in the way.  
Now compare this to the numerous serious downsides to flying:
  • Flying is significantly more energy-intensive, which should increase cost and limit range.
  • Flying drones will never be able to carry as much as a drone on wheels.
  • Flying is dramatically more dangerous. If a 40 pound cooler on wheels ran into you, it might leave a bruise; if a 40 pound drone drops 50 feet out of the sky on you, that could kill you.
  • This means flying drones will be more expensive to insure. 
  • It also means the risk of a big PR disaster is bigger.
  • Failure in flying is more catastrophic. If battery in a wheeled drone dies, it stops in the middle of the sidewalk; if that happens to a flying drone, it could fall out of the sky.
  • So flying drones should likely require more maintenance checks.
  • As the article points out, the added danger of flying means such drones will likely face more regulatory issues.
There is a good reason people and goods are mainly moved around on wheels and not by helicopters. As of yet there has been no technological development to change this basic issue of physics.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Income data shows we need to build more dense housing in cities

There is some good news out of the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual Current Population Survey, but it can turn into bad news if we don't see the correct policy response. For the first time in years median incomes are up. The problem is that all of this increase is primarily focused in cities. From  Next City:

Households in metro areas saw a 6 percent increase in median incomes, from $55,920 in 2014 to $59,258 in 2015. Households in the “principle cities of metropolitan areas” saw a 7.3 percent increase over the same time period. Suburban households — those in metro areas but outside of principle cities — had the highest median income at $64,144. 

At the same time, households in rural areas or small towns didn’t see a statistically significant change in median income, and had the lowest median income — $44,657. Similarly, the poverty rate dropped to 13 percent in metropolitan statistical areas — down from 14.5 percent in 2014 — but the poverty rate outside of metro areas remained almost unchanged at 16.7 percent.
We are seeing a re-urbanization trend in this country which I believe is thanks to a dramatic drop in urban crime over the past several decades. People are moving to our now much safer cities, and American cities have once again become what cities have been throughout most of human history: drivers of innovation and prosperity. We should be helping more people who want to move to cities take advantage of this.

The problem is that policy makers are not allowing this to happen. We aren't building enough densely situated apartments, rowhouses, and condos in the most desirable cities. This is pushing rent up dramatically in cities. I wouldn't be surprised if people living in these urban cores didn't feel any financial improvement because rising rents have more than eaten up any income increases. This is an issue that can be easily be solved by simply allowing people who want to build more urban housing to do so.

Creating more density to allow more people to move to major cities would improve their health, their finances, and dramatically reduce their carbon foot print. Yet even in big cities that are run by liberal politicians --who supposedly care deeply about these things-- building more is way too difficult. In some places it is even being made more difficult thanks new rules that are actually counter productive.

As a futurist, I find this deeply depressing. Re-urbanization is a fairly simple societal change and a straightforward policy goal that would actually improve the lives of most people. If we can't deal with this issue, I fear how we will handle more dramatic changes soon to come, like the massive employment displacement self-driving technology will cause.