Slow recovery rate for many U.S. cities
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: For all the talk of an economic recovery that you’re hearing it helps to remember this: Most of the recovering that’s going on out there is at the national level. Things like the entire economy losing fewer jobs. But you break it down a bit to states or even farther to cities, the recovery gets less clear. Some big metropolitan areas are doing all right. Others really aren’t. In a report out today the Brookings Institution surveyed the country’s top 100 cities. Only 10 of them are showing any signs of bouncing back at all. So for starters, I asked Alan Berube from Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program why one of them, Austin, Tex., is doing so much better than others.
Alan Berube: Like a lot of the other better performing metropolitan areas, it’s first about what they do. And Austin, of course, is a state capital so concentration in government has been a good thing. That’s an industry that really hasn’t shed many jobs over the course of the recession. And it’s a university center as well. Home to a big one, if not the biggest public university in the nation, and that’s a sector that’s actually added jobs over the course of the recession. So what people do in Austin accounts for some of their performance.
Ryssdal: Not surprisingly Detroit, Mich., is on the bottom of almost every metric you guys use. Gross metropolitan product, housing prices, unemployment. It’s way down there on all of them. Not really a surprise at all, is it?
BERUBE: No, I think that’s probably a story that’s pretty well understood. It is the heart of the auto belt. And it shares this pain with other metropolitan areas that are part of that belt or part of the supply chain for it, like Toledo, Cleveland, some Metropolitan areas in Indiana, and Kentucky. The striking thing about Detroit is that we looked at performance over the course of each metropolitan area’s recession based on when it reached its peak in employment and output. And in Detroit that peak was in 2004, so it was on the downslope a long, long time before the rest of the nation was.
Ryssdal: What about other manufacturing cities in this country? I mean, you’d they would be having a tough time but really your report says some of them are doing pretty well.
BERUBE: They’re making aerospace equipment in Hartford, they’re making plastics in Scranton, they’re making photovoltaic cells and imaging equipment in Rochester. The demand for these products has remained relatively strong over the course of the recession, compared to a lot of other manufactured goods, and their regional economy is showing the benefits of that.
Ryssdal: Yeah, you know, regional economy. Interesting point. There’s a tendency when we talk about the economy, whether it’s business journalists or politicians in Washington, to talk about a single national economy. But really from your point of view, there are 300 and, what, 66 metropolitan economies that you really have to consider, aren’t there?
BERUBE: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there’s of course been this relentless attention to the national figures coming out of Washington, the jobs, the GDP, the unemployment rate. And we think that tends to miss what is a tremendously diverse U.S. economy on the ground. And we look at that economy through the lens of metropolitan economies, our labor markets, our housing markets. When you look at it through that lens you find that, yeah, all metropolitan areas have been hurt to some degree but that pain is shared very, very unequally. So on the way down this is an uneven recession, which indicates that when we finally turn the corner it’s going to be potentially a very uneven recovery.
Ryssdal: And does that then say the treatment will be uneven? That cities will not get equal assistance as this recovery goes forward?
BERUBE: I mean I think that depends on the responsive policy makers. One of the purposes in doing this assessment was to make this the mental map for national policy makers. The metric for how they ultimately judge the successive national economic policies should be the performance of our leading individual distinct metropolitan economies. And the kinds of measures that have been adopted and pursued thus far, broad monetary and fiscal policies. I’d argue that these were no doubt necessary, but in fact they may not be sufficient. So I think we’re going to need to focus on policies that have particular relevance for the places that don’t look they are poised to recover very soon.
Ryssdal: Alan Berube. He’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Alan, thanks a lot for your time.
BERUBE: Thank you very much, Kai.
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