Salt Lake City has enjoyed a sustained period of economic growth and a high degree of social cohesion. Flickr/vxla

In case public officials needed extra motivation.

Social equity should be something to work toward for its own sake, but in case public officials needed extra motivation, it's also been tied to prolonged economic growth. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund found that more equitable countries tended to have longer national economic growth spells. Now a new study of U.S. metros by researchers at University of California at Davis finds the same thing holds true at a city level.

In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor report that cities that tend to be more socially inclusive also show longer periods of economic growth—defined here as three or more years of uninterrupted growth in employment numbers. Analyzing 184 urban areas between 1990 and 2011, the researchers found that, among several factors linked with growth spells, the "largest and most significant predictor" was a metro's income inequality.

In other words, more equitable cities are the ones that sustain the most growth. Here's what the researchers conclude (our emphasis):

We find evidence that growth duration is positively related to a number of factors one might expect, including lower levels of reliance on manufacturing and a higher proportion of the population with middle education levels. But of most interest here is that growth spells seem to be shorter when there are higher levels of metropolitan political fragmentation, higher levels of racial segregation, and most significantly (both for theory and in terms of statistical significance) a higher level of income inequality.

Benner and Pastor found that a 1 point increase in a measure of income inequality called the Gini coefficient was associated with a 21 percent rise in the likelihood that the metro region fell out of its growth spell. So the higher the local income inequality, the more likely that region's employment growth spell was interrupted. While the new study establishes such notable correlations, this analysis can't prove causative links.

The study fits into a larger body of research suggesting that greater engagement between different businesses, community organizations, and racial and socio-economic groups has a positive effect on growth and equity. Benner tells CityLab that Salt Lake City, Utah, is one such success story; it's an example of a city that has managed both sustained employment growth and social equity, and can be a model for other metros in an otherwise fragmented society.

"When you look at these regions that are successful, they've been able to create institutions and processes that are binding together diverse populations," Benner says. "So part of the lesson I take from this is what have to do on a national scale is to build cross-constituency collaborations."

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