‘Job Sprawl’ Leads To Diminished Downtown Workforce In KC, St. Louis

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Since 2000, American jobs have undergone a decentralization process, scattering across cities and drifting away from dense downtown business districts, and Kansas City and St. Louis have not been immune. Although the recent recession slowed the trend, the changes could still have far-reaching policy implications for cities.

new report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit devoted to policy analysis, examines this process of  what it calls “job sprawl,” which picked up steam during the 2000s. The report shows that for the country’s 100 largest cities, the share of jobs within three miles of a central business district dropped 2 percent on average. By 2010, these central jobs took up less than half the share of jobs as those located more than 10 miles away from a city’s downtown.

This trend slowed once the recession hit. That’s not to say jobs returned to the city; they simply vanished altogether, and more  vanished outside downtowns than inside them. Construction, manufacturing and retail — some of the most decentralized industries in the country — accounted for 60 percent of job losses between 2007 and 2010. With the economy hemorrhaging those geographically diffuse jobs, the flight away from downtown slowed.

The report shows that St. Louis and Kansas City have largely followed national trends. In St. Louis., the share of jobs 10 or more miles from downtown stood at 61.2 percent by 2010. That figure grew 3.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, with the rate slowing after 2007. The share of jobs within three miles of the downtown business district dropped 1.7 percent over the last decade, and the share between three and 10 miles of downtown dropped 1.9 percent.

Kansas City has, by contrast, a greater share of central jobs than St. Louis. But at the same time, the city has seen a larger loss, percentage-wise, of its downtown jobs. In 2010, 53.3 percent of Kansas City’s jobs were more than 10 miles from its central business district — a considerably lower percentage than St. Louis. Over the course of the 2000s, though, Kansas City lost 3.6 percent of its jobs within three miles of its central business district and 1.6 percent of the jobs between three and 10 miles from the district.

Why should city officials care? The report notes these trends toward lower job density could pose challenges for city planners as they plot and revise public transit systems. They could also affect workforce development and technological innovation in the areas.

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