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

April 08, 2009 |

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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