To see where jobs have expanded the most, look outside the U.S.
“No jobs north of 38 degrees latitude,” Bloomberg contributor Conor Sen tweeted in June. He was commenting on a USA Today report from May which listed America’s best cities for job seekers—all of them below that northern tier. While that’s true for the continental United States, Canada’s metros have significantly outperformed their U.S. peers for the past decade and a half.
More Canadian metro areas have seen moderate to high levels of job growth in that period, even as the U.S. recovered from the Great Recession, according to my research. More U.S. metro regions, meanwhile, saw job loss over the period from 2001 to 2016.
Part of the reason may be that economic activity is concentrated in far fewer metros in Canada then in the United States, and that job growth is less variable in Canada. But the disparity is nonetheless significant and surprising, particularly given that productivity in the U.S. has significantly outpaced productivity in Canada. In the long term, job growth in Canada has surpassed even many high-performing regions of the Sun Belt.
What’s more, my research reinforces our understanding that economic improvement in both countries is increasingly unequal and concentrated. There are few regions that have universally seen positive job growth, but instead pockets within them that have succeeded the most.
Using economic data from Emsi, we tracked the change in jobs across both the U.S. and Canada from 2001–2016. We looked at all metros in the two countries that had at least 100,000 jobs as of 2016. That adds up to 222 metros—203 of them in the U.S., 91 percent of the total, and 19 or 9 percent in Canada. We also looked at job change during the more recent post-crisis and recovery period from 2012–2016. (Emsi compiled these data from a variety of U.S. and Canadian government sources).
Annualized job change for U.S. and Canadian metros, 2001-2016
High job growth metros
Just a small number of metros across the two countries saw high rates of job growth of more than 2 percent per year. All told, less than ten percent of metros (just 20 metros of 222 metros or 9 percent) saw growth of 2 percent or more per year from 2001 to 2016.
Canadian metros dominate this group. Nearly a third (31.6 percent) of them fall into this high job growth group, compared to just 6.9 percent of the U.S. metros. The Canadian metros include a broad mix of metros like Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Regina; the oil and resource hub of Calgary; St. John’s back east; and Vancouver. The U.S. metros include a familiar mix of knowledge and tech hubs like Provo, Austin, and Raleigh; Sunbelt tourist and service metros like Orlando and Cape Coral; resource metros like Fargo; and smaller Texas metros like McAllen and Laredo.
Leading job gain metros 2001-2016
Modest job growth metros
Another quarter of all metros across the two nations, 55 of them, saw more modest job growth of between one and two percent a year. This again includes a much greater percentage of Canadian metros. Nearly half of Canadian metros fall into this group, compared to less than a quarter of U.S. metros. While Rust Belt metros in the U.S. have seen slow rates of job growth or even job decline, Canadian metros in and around the Great Lakes had rates of job growth that rival America’s high-flying Sun Belt metros. Toronto’s rate of job growth was comparable to Houston (1.79 percent vs. 1.91 percent); Kitchener-Waterloo’s 1.52 percent growth was comparable to Nashville (1.56 percent) or Dallas (1.50 percent); and Hamilton (a metro that is sometimes compared to Pittsburgh) had the same job growth percentage as Phoenix (both 1.33 percent).
Slow job growth
Just under half (47.4 percent) of all metros had more sluggish job growth of between zero and one percent per year. And, a much greater share of U.S. metros, more than half, fall into this category compared to just 3 in Canada, roughly 15 percent. Washington, D.C. (0.87 percent), San Francisco (0.65 percent), New York (0.59 percent), Boston (0.49 percent), San Jose (0.32 percent), and Chicago (0.12 percent) all fall into this category, along with Montreal (0.91 percent) and Halifax (0.86 percent).
Overall, slightly less than a fifth of metros (41 of them) saw job losses over this period. This includes just one in Canada and 40 in U.S. (almost 20 percent). This includes Rust Belt metros like Flint, Detroit, Youngstown, Dayton, and New Orleans, hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. The only Canadian metro in this category was Windsor, just across the river from Detroit.
Largest job loss metros, 2001-2016
The post-crisis and recovery jobs picture
As shown in the map above, the picture has improved considerably since the recovery from the economic crisis, from 2012 to 2016, with a broader mix of metros experiencing job gains, and U.S. metros performing considerably better. Canadian metros, however, did not do quite as well as their U.S. counterparts during this four-year period.
Annualized job change for U.S. and Canadian metros, 2012-2016
High job growth
A much larger share of U.S. metros now falls into the high job growth category. Since the Great Recession, more than 30 percent of U.S. metros saw job growth of better than 2 percent a year, compared to just ten percent in the broader period. Two U.S. metros experienced more than 5 percent growth, and another 3 saw job growth of between 4 and 5 percent. This group includes just ten two Canadian metros, Vancouver and Victoria.
Modest job growth
Here again, a larger share of metros, more than 35 percent, have seen modest job gains of 1 to 2 percent a year since 2012, compared to roughly a quarter for the broader period. This category now includes roughly a third of U.S. metros and more than 40 percent of Canadian metros.
Slow job growth
Now, a smaller share of all metros, roughly a quarter, experienced slow job growth, with annualized gains of between 0 to 1 percent, compared to almost half in the broader period. This includes more than a fifth of U.S. metros and just less than half of Canadian metros.
Metros with largest job loss, 2012- 2016
Overall, a smaller share of metros has lost jobs since 2012—just 6 percent compared to 18.5 percent in the broader period. But if the U.S. has improved its performance in the high job growth category, U.S. metros still represent a disproportionate share of those experiencing job loss. Six percent of U.S. metros (13 in all) still experience job loss, but none do in Canada. The metros with the biggest job losses include Atlantic City; resource and energy hubs in Louisiana like Lafayette and Shreveport; coal towns like Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia; and smaller Rust Belt metros like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Youngstown.
Unequal, concentrated growth
Over the past decade and a half, job growth in North America has become concentrated in an increasingly small number of metros. Fewer than ten percent of metros across the U.S. and Canada saw growth of 2 percent of more per year between 2001 and 2016. And Canadian metros performed much better than U.S. metros over this period, a third of them generating jobs at this rate, compared to less than 7 percent of U.S. metros. More disturbingly, nearly a fifth of metros across the two countries actually lost jobs over this period, with job losses heavily concentrated in older Rust Belt metros in the United States.
That said, it is a mistake to equate job loss with geographic location. Over this same period, Toronto’s job performance was on pace with Houston’s, and many smaller Canadian “Rust Belt” metros also registered impressive job gains. While U.S. metros’ job performance improved after the Great Recession, job gains still remain spiky and concentrated.
It’s not just economic inequality that is widening; geographic inequality is too. A shrinking number of places are seeing improvements in wage gains and productivity, and those that are have hardly seen increases in economic or social inclusion. In far too many places, job growth is simply not keeping up with people’s needs, let alone sustaining healthy economic growth.