Suburbs Fall Behind Cities in Education and Job Growth

Inner cities have seen greater gains than suburban areas in education, employment, income and home values over the last two decades, according to a study released Wednesday.

Taxicabs speed down Broadway in New York’s Times Square. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(CN) — Metropolitan cities and their surrounding suburbs have seen population, education and income grow since 2000 as Americans leave more rural areas, but a new study found a generational divide has shaped how urban and suburban areas have developed over the last two decades.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, the Pew Research Center looked at 52 of the most densely populated counties in the U.S. and found Wednesday that Americans have slowly but surely fled rural areas in favor of large metropolitan cities and other major suburban hubs. According to the study, 23% of Americans lived in a rural community in 1970, which dropped to 16% in 2000 and fell further to 14% by 2018.

Some of the population losses from rural areas went to smaller metropolitan cities, which rose slightly between 2000 and 2018 from being home to 29% of Americans to 30%. Similarly, 23% of Americans lived in large suburban areas in 2000, which rose to 25% in 2018. So-called urban core populations, where people live in the inner city, have remained steady at 31% since 1980, making up the highest plurality of American habitation.

However, urban cores have seen greater gains than large suburban areas regarding education, employment, income and home values. In fact, some metrics have shrunk in large suburbs. For example, the percentage of employed people of working age in urban cores rose from 59% to 61% between 2000 and 2018, whereas that measure dropped from 64% to 62% in large suburbs over the same period.

Household income also dropped among suburbanites from $103,000 to $101,000 between 2000 and 2018, while urban income rose from $90,000 to $92,000 during the same timeframe.  

Though both the suburbs and urban areas have seen roughly the same increase in residents with a college degree (27% to 34% in the suburbs and 25% to 33% in urban cores), home values have increased more rapidly in urban areas. The average home value in the suburbs increased by $63,000 between 2000 and 2018, but urban cores saw more than double the increase in value ($127,000) during the same period.

However, the total population growth between major cities and suburbs has been lopsided when it comes to age. Large suburbs have increasingly become home to children (a 1.6% increase since 2000), younger adults between 18 and 24 (1.7% increase), those over 65 (5.2% increase) and adults between 45 and 64 (7.2% increase), outpacing urban growth in the same age brackets. The outliers were Millennials, defined as people 25 to 44 years old, who are moving to urban areas at a higher rate than suburbs – a 2.2% increase in urban cores since 2000 versus a 0.8% increase in suburban areas.

The data demonstrated that suburbs are home to an increasingly older population overall, but Americans nonetheless have been gravitating to both urban and suburban areas as opposed to rural communities in the past two decades.

The study found that while the youngest age bracket saw higher population growth in the suburbs, they were nonetheless shrinking in population overall. The child population fell in both large suburban areas and urban cores (26% to 23% in suburbs and 26% to 22% in cities), while population growth among older Americans grew in both urban and suburban areas.

Pew researchers noted that while large swaths of the country are flocking to denser counties, populations of individuals between 18 and 44 are shrinking overall. Instead, much of the growth came from Americans 45 and over, whose advancement in age between 2000 and 2018 seemed to outpace population movements from rural to urban and suburban areas.

While populations in suburban areas did grow, educational infrastructure lagged behind urban cores in all four measured regions of the U.S. — West, South, Northeast and Midwest. For example, roughly 25% of suburbanites had a bachelor’s degree in any given region, whereas roughly 33% of city dwellers said the same.

Combining a more educated population with a younger demographic, urbanites increased productivity faster than their suburban peers, an increase of 58% to 66% in adults who said they worked full-time. In contrast, the percentage of full-time working suburbanites only grew from 62% to 65% from 2000 to 2018. Running parallel, the suburbs have seen more than double the increase in poverty compared to urban areas — a 55% increase in suburban areas compared to 23% in urban cores.  

Broadly speaking, the last two decades have given way to a U.S. population that is aging in the suburbs with children in tow, while Millennials are flocking to cities with a degree in hand, ready to work and many without any children, given the higher population growth of kids in the suburbs rather than cities.

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