Brookings report finds “job sprawl” undermines long-term regional, national prosperity

August 11, 2010

Washington, D.C. - April 6, 2009 – Since 1998, almost every major American metro area has seen a drop in the share of employment located downtown as jobs have increasingly moved into farther-out suburbs, exacerbating “job sprawl” – a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the long-term prosperity of the nation’s vital economic engines, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution.

Entitled “Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment,” the
report analyzes trends in the spatial distribution of jobs in large metro regions and how these
trends differ across major industries. The report also presents a unique ranking of metro areas
by the amount of “job sprawl” in their regions, charting the continued shift outward of
employment away from their urban cores.

“‘People sprawl’ has long been known for its effect on the environment, infrastructure, tax
base, quality of life, and more. Now, we must recognize what ‘job sprawl’ means for the
economic health of the nation,” stated Elizabeth Kneebone, author of the report and senior
research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program.

“The location of jobs is also important to the larger discussion about growing the number of
jobs,” said Robert Puentes, a Brookings senior fellow. “Allowing jobs to shift away from city
centers hurts economic productivity, creates unsustainable and energy inefficient development,
and limits access to underemployed workers.”

Only 21 percent of employees work within three miles of downtown, while over twice that
number, 45 percent, work more than 10 miles away from the city center. In almost every major
industry, jobs shifted away from the city center. Between 1998 and 2006, 95 out of 98 metro
areas analyzed in this report saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of
downtown, even though the number of jobs in all 98 metros rose during that period.

“These trends have persisted over periods of both economic expansion and decline. This
suggests that, while the current recession may temporarily slow the rate of job sprawl, rising
unemployment will not on its own reverse the long-run trend,” added Kneebone.

According to the report, the decentralization of employment can undermine the economic
health of cities and regions in many ways. It can boost energy consumption, add to the costs
of building infrastructure for businesses that locate far from the urban core, increase
commuting times, reduce innovation by lessening opportunities for firms to interact and
exchange ideas, and isolate low-income and minority workers in the urban core from
employment opportunities in outlying areas.

“The new stimulus package has spurred billions of dollars in spending to create or save
millions of jobs, but it is unclear where those jobs will be created,” added Puentes. “We have
an opportunity to be strategic in planning more compact development that will result in more
productive, sustainable, and inclusive metropolitan growth moving forward. In this
environment, we must be aware of every policy option we have available to us to reverse these
job sprawl patterns.”

The large regions (over 500,000 jobs) with the most decentralized employment patterns are
Detroit, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Detroit is especially
notable with 77% of its jobs located more than 10 miles outside its core, reflecting shifts in population and businesses dating back several decades. The small metro areas (165,000 to 500,000 jobs) that have the most job sprawl are Poughkeepsie, Scranton, Youngstown, and

Metro Areas with Most Job Sprawl - Large Employment Center

Share of Jobs – More Than 10 Miles Away From City Center*

Detroit]Warren]Livonia, MI 77.4%
Chicago]Naperville]Joliet, IL]IN]WI 68.7%
Dallas]Fort Worth]Arlington, TX 66.9%
Los Angeles]Long Beach, Santa Ana, CA 65.6%
Philadelphia]Camden]Wilmington, PA]NJ]DE 63.7%
Atlanta]Sandy Springs]Marietta, GA 63.2%
Miami]Fort Lauderdale]Miami Beach, FL 62.6%
St. Louis, MO]IL 60.9%
San Francisco]Oakland]Fremont, CA 57.3%
Seattle]Tacoma]Bellevue, WA 56.0%

Metro Areas with Most Job Sprawl Share of Jobs – More Than 10 Small Employment Center Miles Away From City Center

Poughkeepsie]Newburgh]Middletown, NY 67.4%
Scranton]Wilkes]Barre, PA 52.0%
Youngstown]Warren]Boardman, OH]PA 45.6%
Worcester, MA 44.8%
Knoxville, TN 44.3%
Portland]South Portland]Biddeford, ME 42.7%
New Haven]Milford, CT 42.3%
Greensboro]High Point, NC 39.9%
Augusta]Richmond County, GA]SC 37.1%
Albany]Schenectady]Troy, NY 36.2%

More centralized metro areas include Honolulu and Lexington. They lead the list for the share
of their jobs within three miles of downtown, with each containing more than twice the average
share of jobs in the urban core. Both of these regions were early adapters of policies that
contained urban sprawl in the late 1950’s. Virginia Beach, New York City, Salt Lake City,
Las Vegas, and Boston have the highest inner-ring job share among the large metro areas.

Most Centralized Metro Areas - Large Employment Center

Share of Jobs – Within 3 Miles of City Center

Virginia Beach]Norfolk]Newport News, VA]NC 36.4%
New York]Northern New Jersey]Long Island, NY]NJ]PA 34.8%
Salt Lake City, UT 32.8%
Las Vegas]Paradise, NV 29.9%
Boston]Cambridge]Quincy, MA]NH 28.0%
Louisville, KY]IN 27.8%
Pittsburgh, PA 25.9%
Phoenix]Mesa]Scottsdale, AZ 25.8%
Tampa]St. Petersburg]Clearwater, FL 24.9%
Nashville]Davidson—Murfreesboro, TN 24.8%
Most Centralized Metro Areas
Small Employment Center
Share of Jobs – Within 3 Miles of
City Center*
Honolulu, HI 55.6%
Lexington]Fayette, KY 48.0%
Bakersfield, CA 43.0%
Boise City]Nampa, ID 42.6%
Des Moines, IA 40.2%
Oxnard]Thousand Oaks]Ventura, CA 39.4%
Lansing]East Lansing, MI 39.0%
Syracuse, NY 37.7%
Wichita, KS 36.9%
Portland]South Portland]Biddeford, ME 36.1%

*All numbers as of 2006

For the complete report and statistics for all 98 metro areas, visit www.

More than half of the major metro areas examined in this study (53) experienced rapid job
sprawl between 1998 and 2006, gaining a higher than average share of jobs beyond 10 miles of
their urban cores and losing jobs in both their city centers and the rings 3-10 miles outside their centers. For some metro areas, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., this outward shift came
amidst net job gains shared across the region. Topping the list of metros that had the largest
increase in jobs more than 10 miles from the central business district are Phoenix, Memphis,
Jacksonville, Orlando, and Austin.

The types of industries in which a metro area specializes influence its spatial pattern of
employment. For instance, areas with manufacturing, such as Detroit and Chicago, show
higher than average levels of job sprawl while areas that specialize in information, such as
Boston and New York, locate more jobs downtown. More than 30% of jobs in utilities,
finance and insurance, and educational services locate within three miles of downtowns, while
at least half of the jobs in manufacturing, construction, and retail are more than 10 miles away from central business districts.

The construction industry went through a boom in recent years in the South and West as many
metros in these regions added population, helping to fuel the increase in jobs located in the
metropolitan fringe. The South saw the most significant change: a 2.8% decrease in
urban core job share coupled with a 4.8% increase in jobs moving to the outer ring. In
the West, the share of jobs in the inner ring dipped by 2.1% and rose in the outer ring by

The Brookings report underscores how state and regional leaders must coordinate economic
development and land-use strategies to promote more robust, inclusive, and sustainable future
growth. The current economic crisis and implementation of the $787 billion federal stimulus
package offer new opportunities to reorient traditional metropolitan job growth patterns in
smarter ways.

About the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings

Created in 1996, the Metropolitan Policy Program (MPP) provides decision makers with cutting
edge research and policy ideas for improving the health and prosperity of metropolitan areas
including their component cities, suburbs, and rural areas. To learn more visit:

Brookings Institution
Metropolitan Policy Program
1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
telephone 202.797.6139
fax 202.797.2965

CONTACTS: Carrie Collins, 301-664-9000 x18,
Susan Kellam, 202-797-6310,


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