Job Density Is Increasing in Superstar Cities and Sprawling in Others

William Perugini/Shutterstock.com

A study finds job density increased in the U.S. over a 10-year period. But four cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle, accounted for most of it.

America today is increasingly defined by the overlapping divides of class and place. The country’s geography can be characterized as winner-take-all, with high-paying knowledge jobs disproportionately concentrated in coastal superstar cities, leading-edge tech hubs, and elite college towns, as large spans of the country lag far behind.

A new Brookings Institution study released this week adds to our understanding of this key trend in our uneven economic geography, documenting the deepening divide in job density across the nation.

The study, by researchers Chad Shearer, Jennifer S. Vey, and Joanne Kim, examines the degree to which jobs are concentrating or dispersing across 94 of America’s largest metro areas, which contain roughly two-thirds of all jobs. To get at this, the study uses unique data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Origin-Destination Employment Statistics program (or LODES), which links home and work locations for census blocks.

One caveat about the data: Because of issues with state-level reporting, it excludes six of the nation’s largest 100 metros: Boston and several other smaller Massachusetts metros; Milwaukee and  Madison, Wisconsin; the parts of Providence that lie in Massachusetts; and parts of Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul that lie in Wisconsin. The study measures “weighted” or “perceived” job density. While the standard measure of job density basically calculates the jobs per land area, this report uses a measure of perceived job density that calculates job density of the place where the average job is located.

Overall, job density increased significantly between 2004 and 2015, according to the study, rising from about 20,000 jobs per square mile in 2004 to nearly 26,000 in 2015—an increase of nearly 6,000 jobs per square mile, nearly 30 percent.

But the increase in job density was extremely unequal across the county. In fact, 90 percent of it was powered by just four superstar metros: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. Together, these metros had an average jump of 40 percent for job density.

In the other 90 or so other metros, job density increased by an average of just nine percent, from 8,917 in 2004 to just 9,735 jobs per square mile by 2015. Overall, slightly more than half of all metros (48 of 94) saw increases in job density.

Just 15 percent of metros (14 of 94) posted above average gains in job density, including places like Nashville and San Jose but also Charlotte, Albany, and Honolulu. Another fifth of metros (20 of 94)—including places like Philadelphia; Atlanta; Boise; and Richmond, Virginia, saw their job density increase by between 10 and 30 percent.

Job density actually declined in almost half of metros (46 of 94) with a fifth (20 metros) seeing declines of less than ten percent; 14 percent (13 metros) posting declines of 10 to 20 percent; and six percent (6 metros) seeing declines of 30 percent or more.

This growth in job density has been driven both by their concentration in certain cities and metros, and by the tendency of knowledge jobs in tech and advanced business services to concentrate and cluster, and to do so disproportionately in a small number of places.

The density of information-technology jobs increased by some 60 percent between 2004 and 2015—an increase that was powered by just three metros: San Francisco, New York, and Seattle. Conversely, job sprawl is much more prominent in metros with manufacturing and more routine service-based economies, where wages and incomes are much lower.

But the jobs’ divide is also fractal, occurring within individual metros as well as between them. Across the board, jobs have become denser in and around the urban core and sprawled across outlying suburban and exurban areas. As the study puts it, “jobs in metropolitan America grew both up and out from 2004 to 2015.”

Job density in core urban counties—those where at least 95 percent of people live in an urbanized area—grew from roughly 35,000 jobs per square mile in 2004 to more than 40,00 jobs per square mile in 2015, a 35 percent gain. Job density grew at less than half this rate in established suburban areas (13 percent), and barely budged in newly built suburbs (increasing by just 1 percent), while job density actually declined by 18 percent in exurban counties.

On this score, the study finds that “the pattern of job growth within different counties in the same metro area mattered just as much—if not more—to a metro area’s overall job density trends than the distribution of its job growth between core urban counties, peripheral suburban, and exurban counties.”  

America is increasingly divided, and the density of jobs—as well as of people and talent—is a key fault line in its increasingly spiky and unequal economic geography. This jobs divide not only separates “winners” and “losers” across cities and metro areas, but within them. And it has grown more accentuated since the economic crisis, with the growth of knowledge jobs, decline of manufacturing, and the rise of winner-take-all urbanism.

The effects of this deepening jobs divide go beyond the economy. As the report points out, job density is associated with better heath, environmental, and civic outcomes, as well as higher rates of innovation and economic performance. It is also a key feature of America’s political divide, between denser blue places and more sprawling red ones.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.