Jobs Continue to Decentralize Within America's Metropolitan Regions

Since 1998, most major American metropolitan areas have seen a decline in employment located close to the city center as jobs have moved farther into the suburbs.

A recent report by the Brookings Institution determined that this “job sprawl” threatens to undermine the long-term regional and national prosperity.

The report analyzes the spatial distribution of jobs in large metropolitan regions and how these trends differ across major industries, in addition to ranking cities according to their amount of job sprawl.

The report found that only 21 percent of employees work within three miles of downtown. Using the period before the current recession, the report found that while the number of jobs has increased, 95 of 98 metro areas analyzed saw a shift of jobs away from the central core.

The Brookings Institute argues that “allowing jobs to shift away from city centers hurts economic productivity, creates unsustainable and energy inefficient development and limits access to underemployed workers.” Yet this may be more a matter of Brookings ideology than a likely far more complex reality.

Job sprawl is greatest both in areas that have clearly declined – such as Detroit – as well as growing regions like Dallas-Fort Worth. Nor does concentration guarantee success, as can be seen by the mediocore performance of the more concentrated New York region. Yet virtually everywhere jobs continue to sprawl, in many cases faster than even population. Maybe it’s time to learn how to adjust to the emerging future rather than yearn for a return to the economic and geographic structure of the last century.