In recent years, job growth in downtown centers nationwide has far outpaced growth in surrounding suburban areas, according to a widely-cited report released this week by the City Observatory. According to a DataHaven analysis of the Census dataset used in the report, New Haven and Hartford are experiencing a similar shift.
The rising shares of jobs, and particularly higher-paying jobs, that are located in city centers indicate that suburbs – and indeed, the entire State of Connecticut – are increasingly dependent on city cores like New Haven, Hartford, and New York City to provide employment and living wages.
The faster growth rates in urban centers, compared to peripheral areas which in many towns are actually losing jobs, reverse a decades-long trend in which employment opportunities rose in suburbs but stagnated in city centers. The New York Times notes that “as people increasingly choose to live in cities instead of outside them, employers are following.”
The study compared many American metropolitan areas, defining the city center as the three-mile ring surrounding the central business district, and the suburbs as the remainder of the metropolitan area, and examining job growth from 2002-2007 and from 2007-2011 (see image).
Additional analysis by DataHaven identified similar trends in Connecticut, where the concentration of jobs is growing in the areas near downtown Hartford and New Haven, but falling within surrounding suburban towns.
Following the method used by City Observatory, DataHaven defined the “urban cores” as the three-mile radius around each city center (for Connecticut, defined as City Hall). However, we defined surrounding suburban regions as the area between three miles and 15 miles beyond that, which we believe to be a more accurate reflection of the way that metropolitan areas are structured in New England than the Census definition, which is based on county boundaries.
From 2007 to 2011 the number of jobs within the three-mile ring around New Haven’s City Hall increased by 6.5 percent, compared to a loss of 4.7 percent of jobs in the surrounding suburban “ring” between three miles and 15 miles out. Over the same period, Hartford experienced a 4.4 percent increase in urban core jobs, compared to a 2 percent loss of suburban jobs.
From 2007 to 2011, coastal Fairfield County (which includes three urban cores; in this case, Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport were grouped together) lost both urban and suburban jobs, which may reflect its status as a periphery of the New York City metropolitan area, the core of which is also undergoing very rapid job growth when compared to surrounding suburbs in Long Island, New Jersey, and Westchester County.
For New Haven, the difference is even more dramatic if you view the period from 2002 to 2011. New Haven’s urban core experienced an 11 percent increase in jobs (a gain of 9,000 jobs), even as the number of jobs in the surrounding ring declined by 4.4 percent (a loss of 10,000 jobs). During that period, the number of jobs in the state as a whole also declined slightly.
Further analysis showed that jobs paying a living wage (those paying more than $40,000 per year) also have become more concentrated in cities with overall job growth. In Greater New Haven in 2002, 26 percent of all higher-paying jobs throughout the region were located within the three-mile urban core. But that figure increased to 30 percent in 2007, and to 34 percent in 2011, indicating that New Haven’s suburban areas are increasingly dependent on the urban core for jobs and wages.
The City Observatory study lists a few explanations for the new trend in urban job growth, including the preference for urban living among young adults; the role cities play as centers of consumption, knowledge-based services, health care, and education; and the increasing development of transportation systems over highway expansion. Statewide, health care employment has driven much of recent job growth – and regional health care centers, such as the Yale-New Haven Hospital, are concentrated in urban cores. Many of these reasons may explain the shift of jobs back to New Haven. From 2000 to 2011, New Haven’s college-educated young adult population grew much faster than its surrounding suburbs, according to a 2013 DataHaven report. In fact, New Haven, with 3.6 percent of the state’s total population, has been responsible for 53 percent of the entire statewide increase in college-educated young adults over the past decade.
The New York Times points out that this shifted reliance has implications for housing and transportation policies as well: Can people who need jobs afford to live where the jobs are? Is there transportation to get them from home to work? In Greater New Haven, where 80% of the higher-paying jobs located in the city center are held by residents who live in suburban towns, can younger and lower-income workers who live within the city center use the bus get to the vast number of suburban retail jobs that serve that population?
Mark Abraham is the Executive Director of DataHaven and a Fellow of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. Mary Buchanan is Project Manager at DataHaven.