Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new Brookings report finds that jobs have sprawled outside city centers and away from poor and minority suburbs.
People living in the largest U.S. metros have fewer jobs in their vicinity than they did 15 years ago, a new Brookings Institution report finds, and this is especially true for residents of low-income and minority neighborhoods. Overall, the number of jobs within the median commuting distance fell by 7 percent between 2000 and 2012 in these areas.
Where jobs are located matters, says Natalie Holmes, who co-authored the report with Elizabeth Kneebone. People who live in or near areas where jobs are concentrated enjoy certain benefits. They are more likely to have a job and tend to have shorter spells of joblessness, for instance. The duration of joblessness in black, female, and older workers, in particular, depends heavily on whether or not they live near jobs. Residents of job-rich regions also tend to enjoy better public services and more retail options.
The reason why jobs are farther away than before lies in the city-to-suburb shift in employment centers that happened in the early 2000s. Even though that trend looks like it's starting to swing the other way, overall city employment in the last decade fell, while jobs in suburbs grew.
But while the neighborhood density of jobs in the cities remained steady, jobs in the suburbs tended to be more spread out. This is partly why suburban residents saw a greater decline (7 percent) in the number of jobs nearby than the typical person who lived in the city (3 percent).
"When you’re talking about large metro areas, job growth in a far flung part of the region isn’t necessarily going to benefit people on the other side," says Holmes.
The Atlanta metro area is a good case study. Jobs in the city fell by 8 percent in the 2000s, while the suburbs saw a net employment growth of 4 percent. But because these jobs were spread out, job density fell in both city and suburbs: the city was left with 4,760 jobs per square mile in 2012, whereas its suburbs only had 10 jobs per square mile.
So the densely packed jobs in Atlanta's city center and the Northeast suburbs (below, left) are still easier to access (below, right):
But overall, nearby jobs declined in both urban and suburban Atlanta (below, right):
Along with jobs, poverty also suburbanized in the last decade, and the suburban poor are far away from suburban jobs. Overall, 61 percent of poor and 55 percent of minority neighborhoods—a growing number of which are located in suburbs—saw a decline in jobs within the median commuting distance. Poor and minority suburban neighborhoods lost 17 and 16 percent of nearby jobs, respectively, compared to overall 7 percent suburban decline in accessible jobs. Dayton, Ohio, for instance, lost 40 percent of the jobs near its poor neighborhoods and 25 percent jobs near its minority neighborhoods.
"There’s a right side of the metro area to be on," Holmes says.
Not all metro residents are living farther from jobs than they did a decade ago. In 29 out of the 96 largest metros, easy-to-reach jobs increased—primarily because in each metro the number of jobs overall increased. In McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, the overall job gain over the study period was 61 percent, and pulled up the increase in nearby jobs by almost the same amount—57 percent.
The Phoenix metro area is an outlier here. The region saw an overall job growth of 11 percent, but an overall decline in nearby jobs of 16.5 percent. Most of the accessible jobs continue to be located in and around the central urban area of the metro.
"Aggregate numbers can mask the local disparities," Holmes says.
Play with Brookings' interactive tool to see if you live in or near a job-rich area.