You are here

The Continuing Decentralization of People and Jobs in the United States

Donghwan An, Peter Gordon and Harry W. Richardson
Although the full picture is necessarily complex and many commentators are pointing to signs of re-centralization, population and employment in the 3132 counties of the U.S. continues to decentralize. This is based on an analysis of annual data from the Regional Economic Information System (REIS) by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA, of the U.S. Department of Commerce) that describes population and employment and income for seven major economic sectors for all counties over the years 1969-1999. The more specific conclusions of this analysis are as follows. First, Frostbelt-Sunbelt migration remains a powerful trend. Climate counts. Second, the facts do not support the idea of a "return to the cities", "regeneration", or any resurgence of compact development despite a strong policy interest in achieving such outcomes. Third, the dominant trends show an ebb and flow over time between growth in exurban and in suburban locations. Suburban growth was concentrated in the middle-sized metro areas. Exurban areas and rural counties usually performed better than core counties. Consistently, the core counties of the largest metro areas have fared worst, even in the most recent period (1995-99) when they did a little better. Fourth, most firms no longer have to seek locations in traditional high-density centers to achieve agglomeration economies; they can either do without them or find them in low-density regions. Finally, most planners in pursuit of "smart growth" are attempting to counter potent market trends in favor of more dispersal, potentially a costly strategy.