From the Atlantic:
This week, the Brookings Institution came out with a report on “job proximity”—that is, which cities have the largest and fastest-growing concentrations of jobs in their city centers. This is an important statistic, because people who live closer to work are more likely to be employed. It’s particularly important for poorer workers who cannot afford longer commutes.
The key finding of the study was that people and jobs moved to the suburbs in the 2000s, and the number of jobs near the typical resident fell by 7 percent. This is in keeping with Trulia data that has found that most moves—both within counties (two-thirds of all moves) and between counties—are toward lower density and cheaper housing.
Even in a decade when retail gasoline prices tripled, people and work didn’t move closer together. Americans are spacing out.
But another story emerges when you look at the cities with the highest job density and who is moving there. When Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes used Census tracts to determine the places with the greatest job proximity, these cities topped the list:
Anybody who spends their free time looking at ordinal lists of American cities will notice that this is a pretty familiar set. It’s almost exactly the list of the most populous U.S. metro areas (for methodological reasons, the Brookings study could not include Boston or any other cities in Massachusetts). It’s almost exactly the list of the large U.S. cities with the highest median incomes. And the highest density of college grads. And the highest share of foreign-born residents among young people.
And, perhaps most importantly for the immediate future, it’s almost exactly the list of cities where college grads have been moving since the recession began.
This is a tight feedback loop. The densest cities tend to be the most educated cities, which are also the richest cities, and often the biggest cities. They’re gobbling up a disproportionate share of college grads. And, as a result, they are becoming richer, denser, and more educated.
This feedback loop goes by many impressively multisyllabic names—geographic sorting, economic agglomeration, cumulative advantage. But they’re all fancy ways to describe something simple. Even as older and less educated Americans are moving to the suburbs, young people with college degrees are moving toward density, and their migratory patterns are encouraging future young people to follow in their steps.
But many cities that don’t already appear at the top of these degrees-and-density lists are fighting migratory currents that are pulling more of the most talented young people to the same small set of cities. “At the same time that American communities are desegregating, racially, they are becoming more segregated in terms of schooling and earnings,” Enrico Moretti wrote in his book The Geography of Jobs. In other words, today’s richest cities might not mimic the collapses suffered by the richest U.S. cities from the 1970s. “The knowledge economy has an inherent tendency toward geographical agglomeration,” he wrote. “Initial advantages matter, and the future depends heavily on the past.”