Hot Spots of Job Growth: Looking Beyond City and State Rankings

Are growing metro areas spreading opportunity evenly? The data says otherwise.

Looking for a job or simply a change of pace? In a time where a growing share of jobs are not location dependent, the allure of moving is all the more enticing. Knowing that, a number of sites put out city ranking pages to curious searchers. You’ve seen this before. They bait you with a title like: “Top ten cities to live in the US.” You then proceed to click through 10 webpages that take forever to load and often provide informational value besides some bragging rights. After all, if you find your city at the top of those rankings, you can tell others about how special you are for living in an “up and coming” place.

Some guidelines when looking for a place to move: When looking at area statistics, size matters. Rankings for large areas (at state and metro area) are too general to be relevant to a personal decision. Unless the metro area is smaller (with 500,000 people or less), the trends for the area may not reflect evenly in all neighborhoods. You could be moving to a struggling area even within a thriving city. City or county data should also be taken with caution. On the one hand, if you live in a small town in the suburb of a large metro area, the stats of that city may not reflect the opportunities you have at commuting distances. On the other hand, large city trends may also not spread evenly. Currently, I found the Census PUMA (Public Use Micro Data Areas) to be the best unit for understanding a geography. It covers a geographical area of at least 100,000 people but does not surpass 285,000. That ensures that these units have uniform size which helps when making comparisons (just try comparing a county in New York city with one in Iowa and you get the picture). Moreover, it is small enough to be relevant to your present or future address.

To illustrate the power of PUMAs, I ran a small analysis on job growth for the latest period we have available (2014-2016). Looking at a PUMA-level map, I wanted to look for the top 10 areas for job growth as the average percentage growth over that period. See below the embed of the map from datausa.io site:

The analysis reinforces some regional trends. The South dominates with 6 out of 10 spots. They are concentrated in Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. The Southwest took three spots: two in Arizona and one in Nevada. The odd one out was Boise and Kuna cities' PUMA in Idaho. A closer look shows that these areas are more often than not contained within sizable metro areas. This supports the idea that jobs and job growth belongs to larger and/or growing metro areas. Yet, the story may not be true in all PUMAs in that metro area. Consider the Charlotte area for example. Charlotte Southwest PUMA came in as one of the top ten areas for job growth with 30% increase over the period analyzed. However, of the remaining five PUMAs, three had growth of less than 2% while two actually saw employed population shrink by an average of 4.5% over the same period!

This highlights the perils of average. A fast-growing section within a metro area can artificially inflate the average growth of a city, masking areas of stagnation and decline. It also explains why some people may be struggling to find a job even when living in a thriving city.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. Do you live in any of the metro areas cited above? If so, have you witnessed growing job opportunities?

Q2. Would you consider moving to a place based only on its job prospects?

Q3. How is your neighborhood faring in this growing economy?

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