Where Workers Go, Do Jobs Follow?


Using data from the 1990 and 2000 Census of Population, an analysis of workers and jobs in the
central cities and lower- and higher-income suburbs of the largest 150 metropolitan areas indicates

  • Roughly 65 percent of all residents and nearly 60 percent of all jobs are now located in the suburbs, with over a third of each in the higher-income suburbs. More individuals now live in the higher-income suburbs than in the central cities, and nearly as many jobs are in the higher-income suburbs as well.
  • Population grew strongly during the 1990s in the lower-income suburbs, while job growth was particularly strong in the higher-income suburbs. Residential populations grew by 36 percent in lower-income suburbs, compared to just 24 percent in the central cities and 16 percent in the higher-income suburbs; while employment growth was more rapid (at 26 percent) in the higher-income suburbs, than in the central cities and lower-income suburbs (18 percent each).
  • Population growth in the lower-income suburbs for blacks and Latinos has been especially dramatic, while their employment growth in these areas lags behind. Population growth in the lower-income suburbs is also especially pronounced for less-educated groups. But job growth lags behind population growth in the lower-income suburbs and exceeds it in the higher-income suburbs for all educational groups.
  • Most groups of residents in the lower-income suburbs must now commute out for work, especially to the higher-income suburbs. Major changes in commute patterns over the 1990s were observed among Latinos (and, to a lesser extent, high school dropouts), with the sharpest increases in commutes towards the higher-income suburbs occurring among members of these groups who live in the central cities and lower-income suburbs.
  • The accessibility of residents of lower-income suburbs to jobs in higher-income areas appears to vary greatly across metropolitan areas. Lower-income suburbs are largely contiguous to higher-income suburbs in some metropolitan areas (such as Baltimore and Boston) while they are mostly concentrated on different sides of the central cities in other areas (such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver).

These findings suggest that local labor market policy should better maximize access to good jobs and skill-building opportunities for all workers throughout the metropolitan area. Employer access to potential workers should be enhanced as well, regardless of where the workers and the jobs are located.