Thesis: Local governments have an incentive to continually approve new suburban developments without considering the long term consequences. This has led to the growth of inaccessible jobs.
The United States is trending towards a state where its workforce is disconnected from the businesses that employ it, new research from the Brookings Institute suggests. The data is stark: from 2000 to 2012, jobs within the average commute of major metro areas fell by 7%, with jobs within commuting distance declining for both urban and suburban residents of those areas. Jobs are not only moving away from the center of cities and towards the suburbs, but they’re spreading out and becoming harder for people to get to. Our very own metro Detroit is the worst city in the nation when it comes to job sprawl, with a whopping 77% of jobs located at least 10 miles away from the central business district. Just as one might imagine, this poses a serious problem for the city’s many low-income residents who don’t own vehicles, unless they have access to some form of public transit that can connect them to their place of work. As it currently stands, most cities can’t hope to create a public transit system extensive enough to connect non-car owners to the widening network of jobs. So what can be done to make jobs more accessible?
The most obvious change that could be made would be a reverse migration of Americans from the suburbs back to the cities. And although it seems that such change is taking place – young people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year, as The Atlantic writes – there isn’t much that local governments can do to support this trend that they don’t already do. Where local government can have an impact is in its support for new suburban development. County and municipal governments have a strong incentive to approve or even push for development to increase their revenue. When a local government approves a new development it gets an influx of cash from public works contracts and registration taxation associated with the new suburbs. In the long run, these governments struggle to keep up with the infrastructure required, providing incentive to approve new developments to keep up with revenue needs. The result is an incredibly costly cycle with no ending point. There are many other costs associated with suburban living. One estimate produced by The New Climate Economy (which, admittedly, is not the most unbiased source for this approximation) prices the annual costs of America’s suburbs to be about $1 trillion, due to infrastructure costs, longer job searches, environmental impact, wasted valuable land, and many more factors. Of course, some people will always crave suburban life, and so long as they pay for the associated externalities, they should enjoy that right. But hopefully we can find a solution to local governments producing suburbs with no end in sight.