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The State of Metropolitan America

January 1, 1970

This report focuses on the major demographic forces transforming the nation and large metropolitan areas in the 2000s. In this sense, it previews what we will learn from the results of the 2010 Census, as well as supplements those results in important ways. It includes chapters that correspond to nine of the most important subjects tracked by the Census Bureau in its annual American Community Survey, along with the policy implications of the findings.

This report also introduces an emerging metropolitan typology, containing seven distinct categories. These new classifications are based upon metrics of population growth, diversity, and educational attainment as compared to national averages.

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Chapter 1

Population and Migration

Population growth remains an important barometer of economic and societal well-being in America. This subject area follows the population growth and decline of U.S. places over the decade, and how the movement of people—from next-door communities, from other parts of the country, and from abroad—contributed to these trends. Findings on population include:

  • Population growth in the United States and its large metro areas was robust in the 2000s. The housing crisis and ensuing deep recession, however, slowed migration considerably, so that the share of Americans changing residence in 2007-2009 was lower than at any point in postwar U.S. history.
  • The decade continued the broad shift of U.S. population toward the Sunbelt. Metropolitan areas gaining the most population from 2000 to 2008 included several of the fastest growers from the 1990s, as well as regions that boomed during the early part of the decade due to real estate development, before the housing market crashed.
  • The 2000-2006 and 2006-2009 periods represent two distinct migration epochs for metropolitan America. Migration magnets in Florida and inland California during the first half of the decade saw inflows plummet post-crash, while metro areas in Texas and the Southeast with more diversified economies held steady. Large metro areas that had previously “exported” large numbers of residents to other parts of the country saw outmigration slow considerably toward the end of the decade.
  • Strong immigration throughout most of the 2000s cushioned populations in large metropolitan areas experiencing domestic out-migration. Metropolitan New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco lost hundreds of thousands of domestic migrants across the decade, but experienced substantial, counterbalancing inflows of international migrants.
  • Two-thirds of primary cities in large metropolitan areas grew from 2000 to 2008. City growth spread and accelerated between 2006 and 2008, as many core urban areas realized a “windfall” of residents due to the impact of the housing slump on movement to the suburbs.

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Chapter 2

Commuting

Commuting flows are the “blood” of regional economies, showing the connections among businesses and the labor market, and tying together the places that define our metropolitan areas. This subject area details how we get to work, how long it takes us, and how patterns in these indicators have changed over time, pointing to significant differences across communities in how workers undertake these daily trips. Findings on commuting include:

  • Reversing a pair of 40-year trends, the share of Americans that commute by transit increased from 2000 to 2008, while the share of those that drive alone to work fell slightly. However, driving alone remains the method by which fully three-quarters of Americans get to work. Transit usage increased among whites and Asians, while carpooling dropped significantly among blacks and Hispanics.
  • Regional differences distinguish metropolitan commuting modes. Commuters drive alone to work in high proportions in mid-sized Midwestern and Southern metro areas like Youngstown and Baton Rouge. Carpooling is most popular in Southern and Western metro areas, including many with large Hispanic populations like Bakersfield and McAllen. Public transit commuting is concentrated in the nine large metro areas that have rates above the metropolitan average (7 percent), including New York, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston.
  • Metropolitan areas with large transit systems were not alone in seeing increased transit usage during the 2000s. While metropolitan areas such as New York and Washington with extensive rail networks saw the largest increases in the share of commuters using transit, metro areas that opened light rail lines this decade such as Charlotte and Phoenix saw upticks as well. Others that rely almost exclusively on buses for transit commuting (Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and Seattle) also experienced notable increases.
  • In only 19 of the 100 largest metro areas did more than a quarter of the workforce in 2008 commute by a mode other than driving alone. In only two of those metropolitan areas (New York and San Francisco) did more than a quarter of workers commute other than by car. Carpooling is an important alternative to driving alone in both mid-sized (Honolulu, Stockton) and large (Los Angeles, Seattle) metro areas.
  • Residents of cities and older, high-density suburbs are more likely to use transit than commuters elsewhere in metro areas. Suburban transit users have higher incomes than both city transit users and suburbanites overall. Rates of working at home are roughly the same across cities and all types of suburbs, though more common among higher educated workers.

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Chapter 3

Education

Rising educational attainment in the United States over time has contributed greatly to increases in our economic productivity and standard of living. This subject area profiles the educational status of adults (how much schooling they have completed and their enrollment in higher education), identifies differences by age and race/ethnicity, and reveals their relationship to the underlying economic features of American cities and regions. Findings on educational attainment include:

  • Americans are growing more educated, but progress appears to be slowing among younger adults. While the share of U.S. adults holding a four-year college degree rose from 24 percent to 28 percent from 2000 to 2008, a lower share of 25 to 34 year-olds than 35 to 44 year-olds held a four-year college degree in 2008, a reversal from the pattern in 2000. Nearly a quarter of those younger adults have completed some college, but not a degree.
  • Smart metropolitan areas are getting smarter, faster. Already highly-educated metro areas such as Boston, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco ranked among the top gainers of college graduates in the 2000s. Thirty-four (34) percentage points separated the top- (Washington, D.C.) and bottom-ranked (Bakersfield) large metro areas on college degree attainment in 2008, up from 26 points in 1990.
  • In every large metro area, educational attainment for whites exceeds that for both blacks and Latinos. Educational disparities by race and ethnicity evident at the national level are uniformly present in large metropolitan areas, where overall, 36 percent of white adults possess college degrees, versus 19 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics. Some metro areas in the West register higher degree-earning rates for African Americans, as do some in the Midwest, Northeast, and Florida for Latinos.
  • Residents of older suburbs are more highly educated than other metropolitan residents. In Cambridge, MA; Arlington, VA; Bellevue, WA; and Sunnyvale, CA, more than half of adults have a four-year college degree, as do 36 percent of residents across all high-density suburbs. As a group, primary cities lost some of their share of collegeeducated residents to suburbs over the 2000s, reflecting in part the suburbanization of the large, highly educated Boomer generation.
  • Throughout the country, more young people are going to college or graduate school. All 100 of the largest metro areas experienced an increase in the share of their young adults enrolled in higher education between 2000 and 2008. Some of the largest increases occurred in older industrial metro areas of the Northeast and Midwest, suggesting that young people in these struggling economies increasingly recognize the need for a post-secondary degree to succeed in the labor market.

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Chapter 4

Age

After modest growth in the past two decades, America’s senior population will begin to mushroom as the leading edge of the huge baby boom generation turns 65 in 2011. This subject area examines the shifting balance between these older Americans and their younger counterparts across the country, and reveals the age-related concerns that will shape public priorities in different types of regions and communities. Findings on age include:

  • America’s population of “pre-seniors” (age 55 to 64) grew by half in the 2000s. This leading edge of the Baby Boom generation will not only transform the profile of seniors in U.S. society, but will contribute to massive growth rates of the 65-and-over population in the next two decades.
  • Metropolitan areas experiencing the fastest senior growth in the 2000s differed from those with the largest concentrations of seniors. The former group included destinations in the Intermountain West and Southeast that accumulated working-age migrants who are now “aging in place” into seniorhood. The latter group included mostly older industrial areas of the Northeast and Midwest where young populations have declined, leaving seniors as a greater share of the remaining population.
  • Pre-senior populations grew rapidly everywhere. The 55-to-64 year-old population grew fastest in the 2000s in Sunbelt destinations like Raleigh and Austin, as well as areas with natural and cultural amenities like Boise and Madison. Yet even slower-growing major metro areas such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago will witness rapid increases in senior population over the next two decades due to the aging of these leading-edge boomers.
  • Child populations grew in two-thirds of large metro areas in the 2000s, but declined in one-third. This divergence has created metro areas in the Southwest with large child-to-worker ratios, as well as metro areas in the industrial Midwest with larger senior-to-worker ratios. Moreover, boomer aging amid ongoing diversification of U.S. children is creating wide “cultural generation gaps” in metro areas like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Riverside that have young Hispanic and Asian populations, and older white populations.
  • Most growth in the senior population in years ahead will take place in the suburbs. In 2008, 71 percent of pre-seniors lived in suburbs, and their numbers (as well as those of seniors) grew faster in suburbs than in cities during the 2000s. This reflects boomers’ status as America’s “first suburban generation,” and signals their likelihood to remain in these communities as they grow older.

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Chapter 5

Immigration

High levels of immigration during the 2000s increased the nation’s foreign-born population to 38 million as of 2008, equivalent to about one in eight Americans. This subject area focuses on these foreign-born individuals, both citizens and non-citizens: their growth, where they live, their characteristics, and the growing demographic influence of their foreign- and native-born children. Findings on immigration include:

  • About one in eight Americans in 2008 was an immigrant. This represented a dramatic rise from 1970, when fewer than one in 20 Americans was foreign-born, and reflects a tectonic shift in sources of U.S. immigration away from Europe and toward Latin American and Asia in the late 20th century.
  • Metropolitan areas in the Southeast gained immigrants at a faster rate than most other regions during the 2000s. Many metro areas in the Great Plains, Texas, inland California and the Mountain West also had above average growth. Immigrant growth across all metropolitan areas was strong but down from its breakneck pace in the 1990s, and appeared to subside further with the onset of the recession in 2008.
  • High and low-skilled immigrants distribute unevenly across U.S. metro areas. Immigrants with the lowest levels of English language ability and educational attainment cluster in Texas, inland California, and Sunbelt markets that experienced fast growth during the decade’s housing boom. More highly educated immigrants populate former gateways like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and high-tech economies like the San Francisco Bay Area. Major metro areas in the Southeast, as well as established gateways like Chicago and New York, draw a mix of immigrants by skill level.
  • The “second generation” represents a large share of the child population in several established metropolitan gateways. In the Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco metro areas, more than half of children have at least one foreign-born parent, or are themselves foreign-born. The New York area has 1.8 million such children, 44 percent of all children metro-wide.
  • More than half of the foreign-born live in large metropolitan suburbs, up from 44 percent in 1980. In metropolitan areas with a more recent immigration history, such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., immigrants account for a similar or higher share of suburban than city population. More than one in three immigrants in large metro areas live in the high-density suburbs that surround cities, and nearly one in five lives in mature, mid-20th century suburbs.

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Chapter 6

Work

The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, but the great sums of income that the American labor force generates, and the employment opportunities the economy affords, are distributed unevenly among its workers. This subject area focuses on trends in wages earned by differently compensated workers, variable rates of unemployment across cities and regions, and other labor force characteristics of workers in metropolitan America. Findings on work include:

  • Nationwide, wage inequality grew in the 2000s. From 1999 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted earnings of high-wage workers grew by 3.4 percent. This occurred while hourly earnings for middle-wage workers fell by 4.5 percent and the wages of low-wage workers fell by an even greater 8.3 percent.
  • In half of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, high-wage earners saw their wages grow, while middle- and low-wage workers experienced declines. Most large metro areas had wage growth at the top and often at the midpoint of their wage distributions, but in only five metropolitan areas—Cape Coral, Jacksonville, Providence, New Haven, and Virginia Beach—did wages grow for high-, middle-, and low-wage workers.
  • Earnings inequality rose more sharply in the 100 largest metro areas than in the nation overall. All but three metro areas—Augusta, Syracuse, and Tucson—posted increases in their high- to low-wage earnings ratios. By 2008, five states accounted for 17 of the 20 large metro areas with the highest earnings inequality. Eleven (11) were located in either California or Texas, and Colorado, Louisiana, and New York contained two each.
  • Overall metropolitan wage inequality levels are associated with wage outcomes by factors such as race and educational attainment. High levels of wage inequality in metro areas like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York accompany relatively large differences there in the earnings of whites versus other groups, and college graduates versus those with only a high school diploma.
  • Unemployment rates skyrocketed between 2007 and 2009 in metropolitan areas most affected by the housing bubble and turmoil in the automotive industry. These effects are most obvious in metropolitan areas in California and Florida, where the effects of the housing crisis have been widespread, and in the manufacturing-oriented states of Ohio and Michigan. The geography of unemployment growth during this recession differed from that following the 2001 recession, primarily due to the extraordinary impact of the recent housing market collapse, though both downturns heavily impacted many Great Lakes metro areas.

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Chapter 7

Income and Poverty

The 2000s were a difficult economic decade for typical American families, who experienced falling real incomes even before the onset of the Great Recession. This subject area portrays trends in the economic well-being of households, the size of the “middle class,” and the shifting location and characteristics of America’s sizeable and growing poor population. Findings on income and poverty include:

  • The middle class shrank over the course of the decade as income for the typical U.S. household declined. In 2008, U.S. median household income was $52,029—a real decline of $2,241 since 1999. Over the same period, the share of households earning “middle class” incomes fell by 1.8 percentage points. In 2008, racial income disparities persisted, with the typical black household lagging U.S. median income and the typical Asian household exceeding it by nearly the same margin ($17,000 and $18,000, respectively).
  • Even as incomes fell for the typical metropolitan household, large disparities persisted across and within metro areas. Between 1999 and 2008, metro areas in every Census region saw median incomes decline. Midwestern metro areas—led by regions like Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Youngstown—experienced the greatest decline in median income (8.2 percent). Meanwhile, the difference in median income between the 10thranked and 90th-ranked metro area rose from $19,500 to $22,000.
  • Suburbs are home to the fastest growing and largest poor population in the country. Between 1999 and 2008, the suburban poor population grew by 25 percent—almost five times the growth rate of the primary city poor—so that by 2008 the suburbs were home to almost one-third of the country’s poor population, and 1.5 million more poor than primary cities. While city and suburban poor residents generally resemble one another, slightly more of the suburban poor are high-school graduates, married, and white; blacks and Latinos make up a disproportionate share of the poor in both cities and suburbs.
  • Income declined and poverty increased in the first year of the Great Recession, particularly in Sun Belt metro areas. Metro areas in California and Florida saw some of the greatest declines in median household income, along with the largest increases in city and suburban poverty between 2007 and 2008, likely reflecting the early timing and impact of the housing market collapse. Based on unemployment increases over the past year, Sun Belt metro areas like Cape Coral, Modesto, and Stockton, and manufacturing metro areas like Detroit and Youngstown may see their poverty rates rise by at least 3 percentage points in 2009.

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Chapter 8

Race and Ethnicity

The racial and ethnic profile of the United States continued its transformation in the 2000s, reflecting the combined impact of continued immigration and higher fertility rates for nonwhite groups. This subject area documents the changing racial (e.g., white, black, Asian) and ethnic (e.g., Hispanic) composition of our population, including patterns of growth and decline in these groups in different corners of the nation.

  • Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 83 percent of U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2008. The continued faster growth of Hispanic, Asian, and black populations put the country as a whole on track to reach “majority minority” status by 2042, and its children to reach that milestone by 2023. More than three-quarters of racial and ethnic minorities today live in the nation’s 100 largest metro area.
  • A majority of Asians, and a near-majority of Hispanics, live in just 10 metropolitan areas. Yet the 2000s continued a slow dispersal of these groups away from major immigrant gateway areas like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Fast-growing areas of the South like Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. ranked among the largest gainers of Asian and Hispanic population from 2000 to 2008.
  • Metro areas in the Southeast and the Interior West, and a few in the Midwest, exhibited some of the most rapid gains in Hispanic and Asian populations in the 2000s. During the latter part of the decade, however, Hispanic and Asian growth retrenched toward major gateways like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, as the housing market collapse and recession slowed the movement of these groups to places like Riverside, Phoenix, and Orlando.
  • Blacks continue to move southward, as metro Atlanta surpassed metro Chicago for total black population by 2008. Whites moved to many of these “New Sun Belt” areas in large numbers as well during the 2000s, though their population shrank in large, coastal metro areas like Los Angeles and New York that continued to attract significant minority populations.
  • For the first time, a majority of all racial/ethnic groups in large metro areas live in the suburbs. Deep divides by race and ethnicity still separate cities and suburbs in metro areas like Detroit, but others like Los Angeles show much greater convergence between jurisdictions. In a handful of cities including Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C., the share of population that is white increased during the 2000s.

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Chapter 9

Report Overview

The 2000s were less a coherent era than a series of dramatically different economic epochs. Moreover, it is difficult to know whether, or how long, several of the recession-induced trends we identify in this report—slowed migration, increased enrollment in higher educa­tion, declining median wages and incomes, rising levels of poverty—might persist into the coming decade.

This report shows that our nation now faces a series of “new realities” about who we are, where and with whom we live, and how we provide for our own welfare, as well as that of our families and communities:

  • Growth and Outward Expansion
  • Population Diversification
  • Aging of the Population
  • Uneven Higher Educational Attainment
  • Income Polarization

The report also identifies distinct types of metropolitan areas. What differentiates them are simple metrics of population growth, population diversity, and educational attainment, as compared to national averages. Grouped into seven categories, the particular issues facing the nation’s 100 larg­est metro areas become clearer, as do the places to which individual metro areas might look for common solutions:

  • Diverse Giant
  • Skilled Anchor
  • Next Frontier
  • New Heartland
  • Industrial Core
  • Border Growth
  • Mid-Sized Magnet

These population distinctions dictate different priorities for metropolitan leaders seeking to forge a prosperous future for their communities.

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Chapter 10

Policy Implications

National conversations tend to overlook the fact that the five new realities affect not only “macro” conditions such as the federal budget and the U.S. labor market. They are also experienced in places—mostly in our nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Actors at the metropolitan level cannot, on their own, tackle the enormous challenges emerging from these social, demographic and economic shifts.

Only national policy makers have the fiscal and jurisdictional reach, and authority to make the truly market-shaping decisions needed to address these new realities. However, this requires an agenda that goes beyond the conventional ways in which these issues are framed at the national level, to confront aspects of particular concern for the metropolitan communities on the front lines of these trends.

Policy recommendations include:

  • Accommodating More Efficient Growth
  • Integrating and Incorporating Diverse Populations
  • Enhancing Community Affordability and Vitality for Seniors
  • Accelerating Higher Educational Attainment
  • Reducing Income Inequality

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Chapter 11

Households and Families

Households and families are critical organizing units of our society, reflecting the outcomes of major life events (e.g., birth, leaving home, marriage), making collective investment and spending decisions, and funding and receiving government services. This subject area analyzes who makes up these units, how their structures are changing over time, and how they relate to the different racial/ethnic and age profiles of America’s communities. Findings on households and families include:

  • For the first time in several decades, U.S. population is growing at a faster rate than U.S. households. With Baby Boomers well past their peak household-formation years, and new immigrants fueling growth, places that are losing population have less of a household “buffer” to sustain housing demand and tax base.
  • Married couples with children accounted for just over one in five U.S. households in 2008, less than half their share in 1970. These households declined in number during the 2000s, as non-family households—mostly people living alone—grew at a rapid clip to account for more than one in three households in 2008.
  • Many metro areas with already-high shares of married couples with children experienced strong growth in these households in the 2000s. In contrast to these “married with children” magnets like Raleigh, Boise, and Austin, Northern industrial metro areas like Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown saw their married couples with children decline by at least one-sixth over the eight-year period.
  • Many fast-growing cities in the South and West added larger families in the 2000s, even as declining cities in the Midwest shed them. Cities such as Charlotte, Bakersfield, and Lakeland added households of all types, including married couples with children. Cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh lost all types of households, but losses were more modest among their aging non-family households.
  • People living alone and non-married-couple families are the fastest-growing household types in suburbs. A majority of married-couple families of all races and ethnicities live in the suburbs today. But as their share of households declined to one-quarter or less in all types of suburbs, non-families became the most prominent suburban household type by 2008.

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