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No matter where you live – from city canyon to rural prairie – there are four communities that play an out-sized role in your life: the metro areas of New York, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Love them or hate them, those places produce much of the media you consume, the laws you live under, the technology in your home and hands and the entertainment you watch on the big and small screen.
For some, particularly 2016 Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, those metro areas are not just communities, they are “bubbles” removed the realities of everyday Americans, liberal bastions out of touch with “flyover country.” And, in that view, Sunday night’s 87th Academy Awards will present another celebration of America’s dominant “bubble” culture.
You can disagree with Mr. Huckabee’s framing of the issue or argue he is missing a lot of nuance, but from a numbers perspective, he has a point. The four “bubbles” that rule America are different from the country as a whole – and it extends far beyond politics. From racial composition to income to education level they stand out.
- The non-Hispanic white population in each of the bubbles is under 50%, and at least 13-points lower than the national average. There are all “majority-minority” communities.
- The average household income in each is at least $13,000 greater.
- The median home value is at least $200,000 greater.
- Each is above the national average for the percent of the population with a bachelor’s degree or more.
- And President Barack Obama won at least 62% of the vote in each one in 2012, compared to 51% nationally.
Remember, too, that those numbers averaged out over big metropolitan areas, if you zoom in on specific neighborhoods or towns in those areas (bubbles within bubbles such as the Upper West Side of Manhattan or upper Northwest Washington DC), the numbers look even more different from the national average.
Take Beverly Hills, a big bubble within the bubble of LA where the Oscars are more than just a spectator sport. There the mean household income is $177,000. The median home value is $1.3 million. Nearly 6 in 10 people 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s degree, 58.6%.
Those numbers look nothing like the country as a whole. And even with that higher income, often a sign of a Republican enclave, Beverly Hills gave 54% of its vote to Mr. Obama in 2012, beating the national figure of 51%.
And, ultimately, the numbers in those “bubbles” lead to very different lives and concerns in everything from economic issues to cultural experiences. What does wage stagnation look like in a community where the average income is over $100,000? What does racial inequality feel like in a majority-minority community?
The answer, almost certainly, is different than those issues look and feel in many other communities.
Of course, the concept of “bubbles” isn’t limited to the rich and powerful on the coasts. As the American Communities Project at American University notes, there are “bubbles” around the country – some built around evangelical communities, some built around college towns, some built around large Hispanic populations and many others.
In all those places different kinds of lives lead to different experiences, concerns and points of view. Framing one set of experiences as the “real” American experience, the American “bubble,” is a fool’s errand.
But in the broadest sense, there is a point to be made about the big four “bubbles that rule America. After all, not all “bubbles” are created equal. Some have much more influence than others. And one of America’s most powerful, most different “bubbles” was on display this past Sunday evening in Los Angeles.