The State of Employment Decentralization in Major American Cities


Carson Qing

Since the mid-20th century, employers have followed its employees to the suburbs, and have adapted the workplace to fit their employees’ commuting needs, leading to the rise of the “corporate park” and the “edge city.” Some scholars have observed that in the 2000s, a dramatic shift has occurred as cities were again attracting the jobs that left in earlier decades, as employers respond to changing preferences among younger workers who desire a more urban lifestyle. Others contend that such a conclusion is premature, and that employment decentralization, also known as “job sprawl,” still occurs, as there is still high demand for suburban living. Using data on private sector employment from the Census Bureau’s Local Employment Dynamics, I tried to determine if the pattern of employment distribution across metropolitan areas had truly shifted in the past decade, and based on my findings, it seems that job distribution and movement vary by region, although generally, the trends remain slightly in favor of continued employment decentralization in major U.S. metro regions.

Metro regions with an increase in the share of its workforce employed clustered within 5 miles of the Central Business District were:

  1. San Francisco: +1.5%
  2. New York: +1.3%
  3. Detroit: +0.8%
  4. Chicago +0.2%
  5. Philadelphia +0.1%

The above cities are all older designs, where most development occurred early in the 20th century, in the pre-automobile era. Metro regions with the greatest increase in the share of its workforce employed within 20 – 50 miles of the CBD (or, “job sprawl” tendencies), were:

  1. Atlanta: +4.5%
  2. Dallas: +2.9%
  3. Houston: +2.6%

These cities are generally sprawling, Sun Belt areas that have experienced much of its growth during the late 20th century. After accounting for job trends based on distances from each region’s CBD, I observed the following patterns of employment growth (see methodology below for more detail):

Jobs in New York and San Francisco are increasingly concentrated in their urban core. In these cities, employment is no longer de-centralizing, but is re-centralizing. Both cities have a dense and diverse urban core that offer distinctive amenities and advantages for workers and employers, which could be a major driver of these recent trends.

A group of cities had an increasing share of jobs in both its urban core and its exurban fringes, but a smaller share in the “core-periphery” area: the peripheral areas of the primary city, and inner-ring suburbs that border the city. These cities exhibit a “U-shaped” relationship between the increase in the share of jobs in a given zone and the distance from the center city. One-third of the metro areas sampled exhibited this spatial pattern of job growth, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, and St. Louis.

In Houston and Dallas, employment decentralization has been sustained. Areas further from the city are capturing a greater share of the region’s jobs. This trend resembles the traditional pattern of late-20th century employment decentralization.

In general, employment decentralization has been sustained in the largest metro regions in the United States since 2002, but mostly at the expense of the “in-between” zones situated within 5 to 10 miles of the CBD, rather than the CBD itself. These generalized job growth trends show that the past decade was a period of deepening spatial divisions within U.S. cities. Overall, diverging demographic preferences and market forces are leading to an unconventional pattern of employment distribution, one that places the high-density urban core and the low-density suburban fringes at a distinct advantage over the medium-density urban periphery and inner-ring suburbs, locations that typically do not offer the agglomeration advantages of the central city, nor the accessibility advantages of the exurban fringes.

 

Methodology:

This analysis divided the 15 largest metro regions (defined as all census tracts within 50 miles of the primary city’s CBD) into 4 zones of analysis, based on distance from the city center. After calculating job growth for each of the zones and for each metro region, the data was smoothed to reflect a “best-fit” trendline. A composite average of the job growth data was also obtained and fitted to a trendline (highlighted by the red curve above). The composite average trend indicates that regional trends generally favor sustained employment decentralization, but there are distinctive variations across metro regions and the spatial patterns are more complex than anticipated.

The fitted trendlines of New York and San Francisco are negatively sloped (highlighted in yellow), which indicates that recent job growth and distance from the city center appear to be inversely related and have a highly linear pattern.

The fitted trendlines of Houston and Dallas are positively sloped (highlighted in blue), indicating that areas further from the city are capturing a greater share of the region’s jobs.

How will NY move in 2040?


Our colleagues at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council are hosting a series of events to involve the public in a 2040 plan, which are open to the public. From their website:

This Plan will be the 25-year blueprint for transportation strategies and investments in the NYMTC region, which includes the five boroughs of New York City; the lower Hudson Valley counties of  Putnam, Rockland and Westchester; and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long island.  It will cover all modes of surface transportation from a regional perspective including highways, streets, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, goods movement and special needs transportation. In addition, it will also address key transportation activities such as operations and management of the transportation system, safety, security and air quality conformity analysis.

You can learn more about the events on the website here, and let us know if you plan to attend – we’d love to hear about your experience.

Super-Commuters and the Market for Inter-City Transportation


By Carson Qing

Earlier this week, we examined the impact of the super-commuter’s emergence on transportation policies, using the example of the Arizona Department of Transportation’s study of a potential intercity rail line connecting Tucson and Phoenix, one of the most prominent super-commute corridors in the nation. But in recent years, the private sector has serviced a great number of these super-commutes.

While the Northeast Corridor is well-served by Amtrak, a fleet of discount bus companies (Megabus, Boltbus, Peter Pan, and several enterprising Chinatown bus operators) has provided an alternative for potential super-commuters between major cities, in response to the growing market for affordable intercity travel. Because super-commuters tend to be younger and are more likely to come from middle-income backgrounds, they may very well be responsible for the growing success of the intercity bus industry in the Northeast.

Private bus companies have played a significant role in shuttling thousands of super-commuters from Eastern Pennsylvania to Manhattan on a daily basis. Since 2002, the number of residents in the East Stroudsburg, PA metro area working in Manhattan has more than doubled, gobbling up affordable and spacious single-family homes in the eastern Poconos. The 75-mile, 2 hour, $60 round-trip commute to the Port Authority Bus Terminal has become a popular option of these hardy commuters, profiled in this 2008 New York Times article. Private bus operators such as Martz and Transbridge provide commuter services to Manhattan from as far west as Wilkes-Barre and Allentown, respectively. Even though no public infrastructure investments have been made to support development in the area, Eastern Pennsylvania is quickly becoming one of New York City’s newest exurbs as private commuter bus companies have made these daily super-commutes to Manhattan feasible.

Airlines have also facilitated super-commuting by adding greater flight capacity along these emerging corridors: in 2005, JetBlue added 10 flights per day from Boston-Logan to JFK Airport, a 14% increase in capacity, according to the New York Times. Since 2006, the number of residents from the Boston metropolitan area working in Manhattan has doubled. Southwest Airlines, whose entire business model is centered on short, 200-400 mile trips that have seen a significant growth in potential commuters over the past decade, may also make it possible to shuttle between the Texas Triangle cities once or twice weekly. Along the fastest growing super-commuting corridor in the nation (Dallas to Houston), Southwest runs a staggering 25 flights per day between the two cities. These examples show how the market has already responded to the demand for inter-city travel and contributed to the growing trend of super-commuting, while transportation policies are only starting to account for this emerging segment of the labor force.