Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment

Source: Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program, April 2009

An analysis of the spatial location of private-sector jobs in 98 of the largest metropolitan areas by employment reveals that:
– Only 21 percent of employees in the top 98 metro areas work within three miles of downtown while over twice that share (45 percent) work more than 10 miles away from the city center.
– Job location within metropolitan areas varies widely across industries.
– Employment steadily decentralized between 1998 and 2006: 95 out of 98 metro areas saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown.
– In almost every major industry, jobs shifted away from the city center between 1998 and 2006.

Amid changing economic conditions–expansion, contraction, and recovery–during the late 1990s and early 2000s, employment in metropolitan America steadily decentralized. The spatial distribution of jobs has implications for a range of policy issues–from housing to transportation to economic development–and should be taken into account as metro areas work to achieve more productive, inclusive, and sustainable growth and, in the near term, economic recovery.

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