Suburbs Suffered Most Job Losses During Recession, Report Finds

The sprawl of jobs outward from downtown areas slowed during the recession. View data for 100 metro areas.
by | April 18, 2013 AT 12:15 PM

The Great Recession hammered many local economies all across the country, but it was suburban areas that were generally hit the hardest.

That’s according to a Brookings Institution report released this morning examining shifts in metro area employment, finding the sprawl of jobs slowed after years of moving outward from urban cores.

The report examined 100 metro areas, dividing regions into three sectors based on distance from downtown districts. Not surprisingly, most areas stretching from inner cities to suburbs lost jobs during the Great Recession. But it was those communities 10 to 35 miles away from a central businesses district that suffered the largest losses in employment, according to the study.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a Brookings fellow who authored the report, attributes this to the types of jobs found in these suburban regions. In particular, construction, retail and manufacturing jobs – among the industries experiencing the steepest cuts during the recessions – are more commonly located outside dense urban areas.

To illustrate shifts in employment, the study tallied the percentage of each metro region’s total employment within different distances from the central business district. Between 2000 and 2007, the share of all jobs found 10 to 35 miles from central business districts increased 2.3 percent, while more urban jobs within three miles dropped 1.9 percent. The economic downturn put a stop to this jobs sprawl, with the share of all metro area jobs closest to business districts actually increasing slightly, by 0.2 percent, from 2007 to 2010.

This reversal was most apparent in some areas with the most decentralized labor markets. In the Atlanta metro area, for example, the share of jobs 10 to 35 miles from the central business district declined half a percentage point from 2007 to 2010 after climbing 4.6 percent the previous seven years.

Not all cities experienced the same jobs shifts, though. Kneebone said industry mix, topography, and level of government fragmentation all factor into the equation.

“The extent to which regions link planning decisions around things like land use, transportation and housing strategies can affect these trends,” she said.

Of the larger employment regions, the report identified the following to be the most decentralized: Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich., Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill., Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga., Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington and St. Louis, Mo.

Barring major policy changes, Kneebone said she suspects the sprawl of jobs to suburbs to start back up as the economy recovers.


Figures listed below refer to the percentage of a metro area's total jobs located various distances from central business districts between 2007 and 2010. For additional data, please refer to the full report.

Source: Brookings Institution