The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Work near home is harder to find

Number of nearby jobs in Atlanta fell for typical resident.

- By Paul Wiseman

The number of jobs within typical commuting range dropped 7 percent between 2000 and 2012 in major U.S. metropolit­an areas,

WASHINGTON — Remember the Detroit man who walked 21 miles to work?

James Robertson’s arduous daily journey back and forth to a low-wage factory job, widely reported last month, is just an extreme version of an increasing­ly common problem: Finding a job near home is getting harder for millions of American workers. And long commutes are especially tough on the poor and on blacks and Hispanics.

Robertson, 56, got lucky. As the news of his daily walk went global, donations poured in from sympatheti­c people, including a local auto dealer who gave him a new Ford Taurus. Most people aren’t as fortunate.

A Brookings Institutio­n report out Tuesday finds the number of jobs within typical commuting range dropped 7 percent between 2000 and 2012 in major U.S. metropolit­an areas — and 14.8 percent in metro Atlanta, which was cited in the study as illustrati­ve, in many ways, of the average metropolit­an pattern.

“The city and near northeast suburbs (north Fulton, north DeKalb and Gwinnett counties) have the highest job densities in the metro area,” Brookings said. “Not coincident­ally, residents of those areas live near the highest number of jobs.”

“Although the Atlanta region gained jobs overall during the 2000s, the number of nearby jobs fell for the typical resident as employment spread out within the metro area,” the study said. “The city of Atlanta shed jobs during the 2000s (minus 8 percent), while its suburbs experience­d net employment gains (4 percent). At the same time, job density fell on average in both the city and suburbs. Thus, typical residents in both locations saw their proximity to jobs decline, by 11 percent in the city and 14 percent in the suburbs.”

Nationwide, metro jobs

near poor people, many of whom cannot afford cars, fell 17 percent, versus a 6 percent drop for those who weren’t poor. Jobs near Hispanics fell 17 percent, and those near blacks dropped 14 percent.

Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes of Brookings’ Metropolit­an Policy Program used U.S. Census Bureau data for 96 big metro areas to find how many jobs were available within each area’s median commuting distance — a figure that ranged from 12.8 miles in Atlanta to 4.7 miles in Stockton, Calif. (Median commuting distances in other metropolit­an regions, by way of comparison, were 7.7 miles in metro New York, 8.8 miles in greater Los Angeles and 10 miles in the Chicago area.)

For years, analysts and policymake­rs have worried that jobs were moving to the suburbs and away from the inner-city poor. Kneebone and Holmes found something new: Jobs and people of all incomes and races are moving from densely populated urban neighborho­ods to the sprawling suburbs. As they do, the distance between people and jobs expands.

Increasing sprawl means that nearby jobs can fall even when overall jobs increase. Jobs in Phoenix and its suburbs, for example, grew almost 11 percent from 2000 to 2012. But jobs within the typical commuting range fell nearly 17 percent over the same period.

“People in the suburbs need to get to jobs in other suburbs,” Kneebone said.

Just 29 of the 96 metro areas enjoyed a hike in jobs within commuting range from 2000 to 2012. Nearby jobs rose nearly 58 percent in McAllen, Texas, and nearly 23 percent in Bakersfiel­d, Calif. Cleveland (down nearly 27 percent) and Detroit (down almost 26 percent) had the biggest drops in jobs within typical commuting distance. Those metro areas also lost jobs overall.

Kneebone and Holmes recommend that communitie­s within metro areas work together to make sure low-income workers can find and pay for public transporta­tion. They note, for example, that King County, Wash., which includes Seattle and its suburbs, is offering discounted public transit fares to low-income residents.

 ?? RYAN GARZA / DETROIT FREE PRESS ?? James Robertson, 56, of Detroit used to walk 21 miles to work. After the news of his daily walk went global, a local auto dealer gave him a new Ford Taurus.
RYAN GARZA / DETROIT FREE PRESS James Robertson, 56, of Detroit used to walk 21 miles to work. After the news of his daily walk went global, a local auto dealer gave him a new Ford Taurus.

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