What Can Jobs Tell Us About Equity in Cities?

Cities are having a bit of a renaissance. If you need proof, look no further than the most recent decennial Census numbers. The 10 most populous incorporated places grew by an average of just about 7% over the last 10 years. While most cities welcome population growth, especially older cities that are coming out of periods of population decline, what does it look like for a city to grow equitably?

One key barometer of equitable cities in the future will be jobs. Not just how many jobs cities are able to create, but the types of jobs and where they are located. Some of the key indicators we are keeping our eyes on at ESI are:

  • Which sectors are adding the most jobs. Lowered-skilled sectors are slated to add the greatest number of jobs in cities. High-wage jobs are predicted to grow in cities as well, but the net total number of jobs is not as large, and these opportunities are only available to those who are also highly educated for the most part. In Philadelphia, middle-wage employment lagged behind overall job growth since the Great Recession and the full impacts of the pandemic still remain unknown.
  • Spatial (mis)match of jobs to residents. Job sprawl, when jobs are spread out over a metropolitan area instead of densely concentrated in an urban city center, presents problems for communities of color and low-income communities who spend a higher proportion of their income on commuting costs. If cities are committed to growing in an equitable manner, one action within their power is to incentivize job creation in transit-accessible locations, enabling a city’s most marginalized populations’ access to jobs.
  • Availability of jobs with equity. Millennials and GenZ increasingly want an equity stake in their work. Perhaps that is part of the reason why business startups grew 24 percent, from 3.5 million in 2019 to 4.4 million, in 2020.
  • Support for small businesses. Small businesses, with under 500 employees, make up the majority of US employer firms. Supporting these businesses with small business loans will be critical to supporting a thriving economy of jobs. Loans made to Minority, Women, and LGBTQ Business Enterprises support employers, such as Black owned businesses, who have smaller financial cushions and weaker long-term banking relationships.
  • Jobs with paths to increased economic mobility. Lower skilled sectors are adding the greatest number of jobs in cities, but these jobs can be a major boom to cities if they provide economic mobility. Jobs that include easy on-ramps into an entry level position and the ability to advance in title and pay without training/credentialing barriers will be key to moving some city dwellers into higher economic rungs. These jobs also offer resilience against job elimination due to automation or inaccessibility of ongoing training/credential

Cities are in a pivotal moment. Population shifts are in full swing, perhaps even expedited due to the pandemic. Without an equity focus, cities will not be able to provide a better quality of life for its residents, economic productivity, and environmental benefits that are held up as the hallmark characteristics of city living. Cities that want to thrive in the future must begin to think about equitable growth, because an equitable city is an attractive place for all.

Melissa Wright, Associate Director | [email protected]

Melissa is an Associate Director at Econsult Solutions, Inc. Prior to joining ESI, Melissa worked for Teach for America as the Director of Performance Measurement and Evaluation. In this role, she led the facilitation of learning experiences for teams and clients that focused on building skills and knowledge of outcome measurement and improvement

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