by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ryan Streeter of the American Enterprise Institute explores the important role of aspiration in American society.
Our era of grievance politics suffers from a collective blind spot to American aspiration. We hear very little from either presidential campaign about the American Dream or the hopes that motivate small business owners, workers considering a job change, or parents dreaming for their children’s future. That certainly won’t change before the election.
And yet aspiration persists anyway. One of its best indicators is people’s willingness to pick up and move to change jobs or pursue new opportunities. Even during a pandemic, Americans are moving. A new study of U.S. Postal Service change-of-address requests shows a 4 percent increase in relocations in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019. The increase is certainly a function of the pandemic as people escape crowded cities and college students return home, but many people are still moving for the usual aspirational reasons such as pursuing new opportunities.
Ignoring the aspirations of mobile Americans is a lost opportunity, especially for conservatives. Long before the coronavirus drew the media’s attention to the exodus from America’s cities, people were fleeing big, progressive strongholds like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago for a while. Where are they going? The five fastest-growing cities over the past decade were Seattle, Fort Worth, Austin, Denver, and Charlotte. Movers prefer a blend of economic opportunity and affordability, safety, and reliable institutions over spiraling costs, ideological governance, and unpredictability. Regardless of their politics, they move for reasons we normally associate with conservative values.
This is especially true of young adults and immigrants, two groups with which political conservatives usually do not fare well. More than half of millennials and two-thirds of Gen Zers would move if they could, according to AEI survey data. Like immigrants who regard American cities as the most likely place to realize the American Dream, they are considerably more bullish on the future of the American economy.