City Centers See Job Growth, Suburbs See a Dip

City Centers See Job Growth, Suburbs See a Dip

New report sees a reverse in a decades-long trend.

New York City commuters (Photo by Elvert Xavier Barnes)

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With employment in downtown cores on the rise, more city-dwellers could be eyeing shorter commutes.

Though the last 50 years saw steady growth of highly skilled jobs increasingly centralized in the suburbs, the last few years have seen an uptick in center city employment, according a new report from City Observatory. Using U.S. Census employment data from 2007 to 2011, the report shows that city centers grew jobs at a 0.5 percent annual rate, while jobs outside the city center declined 0.1 percent per year. The report defines city centers as the area within three miles of the city’s business district.

During the 2007-2011 period, Austin saw a jobs jump in its core of 3.4 percent. Likewise, New York’s increase was 1.8 percent, and Philadelphia’s was 2 percent. Job growth happened outside of Austin too, by 2.3 percent, but Philadelphia’s periphery recorded a 0.1 percent drop.

“When it comes to job growth, city centers are out-performing the surrounding areas in 21 of the 41 metropolitan areas we examined,” said report author and economist Joe Cortright. “This ‘center-led’ growth represents the reversal of a historic trend of job decentralization that has persisted for the past half century.”

The report pins the decline in jobs outside city centers to the recession, during which industries such as construction and manufacturing felt the worst of the economic decline. And Cortright points to the trending draw of city life and a general success of urban-based industries (i.e., those that create highly skilled jobs in fields such as tech and finance) as factors contributing to growth.

As for whether or not the center city increase will help workers in industries that aren’t faring as well, the answer varies depending on who you ask.

In a New York Times article looking at City Observatory’s findings, economist Edward Glaeser noted “[t]he problem with the general trend is that the poor are being priced out of cities.”

Enrico Moretti, an economist at University of California, Berkeley, told the Times “for every college graduate who takes a job in an innovation industry, five additional jobs are eventually created in that city for waiters, carpenters and teachers.”

Though the Times recently reported on a growth in jobs across all fields for New Yorkers, for those struggling to find work and pay the rent, “eventually” might seem like a long time to wait.

Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: jobs

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