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Thread: Upper middle class and blue collar?

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Upper middle class and blue collar?

    I live in Ocoee, Florida -- a western suburb of Orlando that is predominantly middle and upper middle class. However, take a look on the roads, and in the business districts, and you'll never know. There's the shiny new West Oaks Mall, but most of the tenants are mid-end retailers. No Pottery Barn, no Restoration Hardware, no Banana Republic. Same thing with the shopping plazas -- nothing fancy-schmancy. No fancy cars on the road, like in the I-4 corridor -- big pickups seem to predominate, just like SUVs elsewhere.

    Go through some of the new subdivisions in Ocoee, those with $200,000 and $300,000 houses, and you'll notice something unusual. About a third of the vehicles parked in driveways are work trucks -- work worn white pickups and vans, most with ladders hanging off them or metal "job boxes" in the bed. Go to one of the new chain restaurants, or Borders, and you'll hear a strange background noise that you don't encounter in other Orlando suburbs -- the constant chirping and tinny screeching of two-way conversations on Nextel phones. The talk is about drywall and building inspections, not mutual funds or dropping off the kids at soccer practice.

    Ocoee is a strange beast -- it's a middle to upper middle class community, but it's very blue-collar. The folks living here made their money by working with their hands. Plumbers, painters, HVAC technicians -- about half of my neighbors are employed in the skilled building trades. Tastes are simple and there are few pretentions, so there's little evidence of "upscaleness" in the retail environment, despite the high incomes.

    There is also a suburb of Buffalo that is quite blue-collar, but also quite affluent -- Elma. Big houses, big lots -- but those long driveways are filled with white work trucks, same as in Ocoee. No fancy cars on the road, no upscale stores, no fine dining. They're blue collar Joes with money.

    Are there other affluent blue-collar communities in the US? I haven't really come across any -- maybe some suburbs of Cleveland or Detroit?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Dan check out Kernersville NC it was a small country town then BAM it grew but its all fast money-big houses but no lexus or BMWs

    No high end stores *true they can shop in Greensboro or Winston but the shopping is generaly lame as well*

    You gotta wonder if they did not sink every dime into the house and not putting any in the bank. Blue collar folks tend to do that...

    Just my .02
    Plannergirl
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Evidence that the middle class is still strong in parts of the country. A drywall hanger making $25 an hour is about $50K a year. With a working spouse at half that, a $200K house is affordable (sort of--if you believe realtors).

    A while ago I saw a reference to book entitled something like "The Millionaire Next Door", which was a study on the unpretentious electrical/plumbing contractor with wealth. In my community there are a number of potato chip delivery vans that try to park in front of what I consider slightly upper middle class houses.

    But in such circumstances, the children usually seek out fancy labels.

    Are you on to a sociological study of the new middle class?

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Re: Upper middle class and blue collar?

    Dan wrote:
    Are there other affluent blue-collar communities in the US?
    Dan, you pose that question as if affluence and blue-collar have never been associated. I see nothing contradictory about affluence and blue-collar. It's been my experience that many builders/contractors are quite successful and can earn a decent income. Oftentimes, they own their own business, and with cash payments, and, **ahem**, paying certain taxes can be easily avoided or minimized. Not that I'm indicting all hard-working laborers as corrupt; all I'm saying is that there are incentives to taking cash and not reporting that as income. Many people do it, however, many others are quite honest.

    But then again, owning a cell phone is not neccessarily an indication of affluence. Perhaps the folks you see are posers and maybe they are just incredibly deep in debt.

    However you cut it, the phenomenom you describe isn't unusual at all. Do I sense a bit of "income envy" on your part? It's been my experience in life that having a college degree doesn't neccessarily mean that you are high wage-earner in a community. There is no entitlement (not that you are professing there should be) with a college education, and the folks who work the hardest, physically, oftentimes have substantial cash-flow. Rewarding and satisfying work? Maybe, maybe not. What do you think?

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Re: Re: Upper middle class and blue collar?

    Beaner wrote:
    However you cut it, the phenomenom you describe isn't unusual at all. Do I sense a bit of "income envy" on your part?
    I can't call it "income envy," because I live among them. My cul-de-sac includes me, three mid-60s retiree families, a roofer, a painter, a motorcycle mechanic, and a HVAC technician. (I live in Ocoee because it's convenient to work, and a relatively well-planned community offering some diversions. If I lived in the northern suburbs, I'd be looking at a 45 minute to one hour commute.)

    I'm curious about the concentration of the blue collar elite in certain communities. You don't hear Nextels chirping away at the Borders in Winter Park; instead, it's the cell phones of professional yuppies. At the Borders in Ocoee, you can't go ten minutes wihout hearing an i50 chirp, followed by loud, tinny speech discussing a jack and bore. (For those that don't know, Nextel phones can be used as addressable two-way radios; they are extremely popular among construction and transportation workers.)

    Yeah, there's some professional workers in Ocoee (me, for instance), and some contractors in the northern suburbs. However, blue collar workers, specifically skilled construction tradespeople, dominate Ocoee (and Orlando's western suburbs in general), while white collars dominate Lake Mary (and the northern suburbs). Why the concentration of skilled trade workers in one area, without a major blue collar employment center there? Construction is happening everywhere in Orlando, so it doesn't seem to make sense that there would be a heavy residential agglomeration in one area.

    The only thoery that I have is that Orlando's western suburbs don't have a major employment center. Orlando didn't start growing westward until recently; a great deal of the land in West Orange County was used for citrus production until some bad frosts about 15 years ago. The large office buildings are downtown or along the I-5 corridor, drawing professionals towards those areas. It may not be that Ocoee has lots of electricians and plumbers; it's that it doesn't have many professionals. The offices haven't caught up with the new rooftops out west, and the pattern of agglomeration of professional employers in the northern suburbs was already entrenched.

    I'm fascinated by urban dynamics -- who lives where, how certain areas evolved as upscale communities or family towns or urban enclaves. Buffalo was easy to figure out; Denver, too. Orlando is a tough cookie to crack.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Dan,

    You ever see the movie "Copland" starring Sly, Keitel, and Garafalo, among others? Great movie... and if you have seen it, then you know where I'm going with this... those NYC cops have a reason why they live in that NJ suburb... do you think a similar yet less sinister reason exists why the builders and contractors live where they do? Assuming it doesn't have anything to do with the extreme cronism and corruption depicted in "Copland," I would imagine those blue collar folks aggregate where they do because of the schools, taxation, and other reasons, most of which we planners are quite familiar with.

    Another thing to consider is local politics and how the housing market is carved out: If the builders know the realtors, and if the realtors know the lending institution's appraisers, and if the appraisers party with the builders at the local pool hall, and if these folks are the ones who get elected to the township/city board, then you can bet who does the majority of "planning" in your neck of the woods. It certainly ain't you and others like you!! Assuming these folks get together as I have portrayed, then you can imagine only a certain type of housing stock is built.

  7. #7
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    Dan,

    I hate to act like a geek about this but I will.
    I looked up 2000 Census Demographic Profiles for both Ocoee FL and Elma (Erie County) NY and here's what they say:

    Ocoee
    mean income $59k
    Income from $50K to $74.9K = 27.4%
    Income from $75K to $99.9K = 15%

    Home value $50 - $99K = 42%
    Home value $100 - $149K = 28%
    Home value $150- $199K = 21.5%

    Occupation Management = 31.8%
    Occupation construction = 12%

    Elma
    mean income $68.2k
    Income from $35K to $49.9K = 18.8%
    Income from $50K to $74.9K = 22.5%

    Home value $100 - $149K = 41.6%
    Home value $150- $199K = 24.8%

    Occupation Management = 40.7%
    Occupation construction = 9.5%

    Despite the appearance of the contractor's vehicles and McMansions, overall neither of these towns are exactly blue collar Beverly Hills. They're both middle class communities with by and large average sized and priced homes. A $75K income and a $175K home are out of my league, but with a contractor's or a data analyst's hourly wages nothing outrageous.

    Speaking of apperances, on my way to work this morning I noticed one of our police vehicles -- a white Ford 4x4 pickup with big shiny job boxes on the back. They also have a couple of nice SUVs. I wonder what they could possibly need these things for in an urban area.

  8. #8
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Rustbelt, if it were that simple.

    First off, let me go home for a bit, and compare Elma, New York with Amherst, another suburb of Buffalo.

    Median family income
    Elma - $63,922
    Amherst - $68,951

    Close enough for government work. Let's have a deeper look.

    Educational attainment - bachelor degree or higher
    Elma - 12.5%
    Amherst - 47.4%

    Management, professional and related occupations
    Elma - 40.7%
    Amherst - 52.1%

    Construction and production occupations
    Elma - 22.6%
    Amherst - 10.5%

    Let's head down to my current neck of the woods. Ocoee, Florida versus Altamonte Springs, a nice suburb along the I-4 corridor.

    Median family income
    Ocoee - $56,865
    Altamonte Springs - $49,082

    Hey, Altamonte is the poorer cousin. Interesting, considering all the upscale retail and office development there. Let's play demographics geek.

    Educational attainment - bachelor degree or higher
    Ocoee - 22.5%
    Altamonte Springs - 31.2%

    Management, professional and related occupations
    Ocoee - 31.8%
    Altamonte Springs - 38.9%

    Construction and production occupations
    Ocoee - 22.1%
    Altamonte Springs - 15.2%


    Okay, enough of that. Let's have fun with Claritas's PSIZM clusters.

    Elma, New York 14059

    15 God's Country
    17 Greenbelt Families
    20 Boomers & Babies
    22 Blue-Chip Blues
    38 Middle America

    Amherst, New York 14221

    2 Winner's Circle
    4 Pools & Patios
    13 Gray Power
    19 New Empty Nests
    23 Upstarts & Seniors

    Two blue-collar clusters for Elma, none for Amherst.

    Now, down to God's waiting room.

    Ocoee, Florida 34760

    5 Kids & Cul-de-Sacs
    22 Blue-Chip Blues
    25 Mobility Blues
    26 Gray Collars
    51 Southside City

    Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714

    18 Young Influentials
    19 New Empty Nests
    21 Suburban Sprawl
    23 Upstarts & Seniors
    24 New Beginnings

    FOUR out of the five PRIZM clusters for Ocoee are considered blue-collar. None in Altamonte Springs.

    Here's the official Ocoee passport. We're required to carry it at all times, unfortunately.


    blah blah blah drywall blah blah blah jack and bore blah blah framing inspection blah blah blah backflow prevention valve blah blah blah

    :blah
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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