From the WSJ (Hat tip Orange):
America’s biggest cities are continuing to outgrow their suburbs as the economy’s plodding recovery makes it harder for city dwellers to move to greener pastures.
The nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas — those with populations over one million — saw their city populations grow 1.12% between July 2011 and July 2012, up from 1.03% a year earlier and an average of 0.42% between 2000 and 2010, according to an analysis of Census data by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington. By contrast, these cities’ suburbs grew just 0.97% last year, higher than 2011’s 0.96% but far below the average of 1.38% in the previous decade. In the New York-Northern New Jersey metro area, New York City — the nation’s largest, with over 8 million people — saw its population grow 0.8% between July 2011 and July 2012, much faster than the 0.3% growth of its suburbs. Between 2000 and 2010, the New York metro area’s suburbs generally grew faster than New York City.
Fewer people “are moving out of the big urban cores because the recession [and sluggish recovery have] tended to freeze people in place,” says Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute and a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire. The Chicago metro area exemplifies the trend: Chicago’s population grew 0.4% between July 2011 and July 2012, while its suburbs grew only 0.2%. In the 2000s, Chicago’s population dropped 0.5% on average, while its suburbs gained 0.9%.
For many decades, Americans tended to move out of major cities into nearby suburbs, especially as cars let them commute to work — driving up suburban populations at the expense of cities. Young people in particular have moved to cities for jobs, especially from rural areas, and then switched to suburbs in their 30s when they built families. The U.S. housing boom from 2002 to 2006 accelerated these trends, sending Americans scrambling to find properties to buy in outer suburbs and even exurbs — while luring them to new jobs in the West and South.
Census data last year showed this migration to the suburbs stalled in 2010-2011. A combination of fewer moves out of cities and increases in population from births and immigration pushed up the overall growth rate of city populations beyond that of suburbs — something that hadn’t happened since the 1920s, by some measures. Now the trend appears to be getting entrenched.
“We would have expected this to change — and it hasn’t,” said Brookings’ Mr. Frey. “The question is, is this just a short-term effect, or something long-term?”
America’s housing market has only recently turned a corner. Once it revs up and more Americans are buying houses, that may push more people into the suburbs, Mr. Frey says.
One possibility, Mr. Frey said, is the recent revival of cities is partly due to a “generational phenomenon.” Younger people may have put their lives on hold indefinitely because of the downturn, delaying marriage, kids and home-buying — or even watched older siblings get burned by housing decisions, making them wary of buying in the suburbs. Much of the growth of America’s exurbs, meanwhile, may never return, he said.