The Global Economic Dominance of U.S. Cities

Collectively, America's cities contribute more to global GDP than the rest of the world's cities combined.

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Cities are the base of the United States' economic strength. But not just New York and Los Angeles. More than 250 of the country's urban centers are responsible for the country's economic prosperity and dominance in the world economy. And though cities all over the world are responsible for major contributions to the global gross domestic product, the concentration of large – and especially semi-large – cities in the U.S. outperforms them all.

Over the next 15 years, cities in the U.S. are expected to create more than 10 percent of the world's GDP – a collective economic impact greater than that of any other country, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The large cities of the U.S., 259 in total, are responsible for about 85 percent of the country's GDP. By comparison, the 186 largest cities in Western Europe together generated about 65 percent of the region's GDP; the 289 cities of Latin America generated 76 percent of its GDP; and the 710 cities of China accounted for 78 percent of the country's GDP.

The sheer number of large cities in the U.S. is clearly a major part of the difference, especially with about 80 percent of the country's population concentrated in these metropolitan regions. But the report also notes that, beyond just volume, the economic power of U.S. cities is largely due to the fact that they are so widely spread and so diverse in their economic strengths. This diversity has obviously led some cities to outperform others within the U.S. and to grow at wildly different rates, but collectively they represent a solid core of wealth generation that no other countries or global regions can match.

As The Atlantic Cities' Tyler Falk noted in a recent article, another McKinsey reports suggests that the world's 600 largest cities already account for more than half of the world's GDP – a figure expected to rise to 60 percent by 2025. Of those 600 cities, about 1 in 7 are in the United States. And though cities are growing rapidly in China and elsewhere, the economic power of cities in these regions is far more concentrated in just a few places. Because the economic vitality of the U.S. is spread out among its 259 large and semi-large cities, the country is able to play a more significant role at the global level and will continue to do so.

Top image: Davor Pukljak / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.