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The Growing Inequality Between America’s Superstar Cities, and the Rest

A new Brookings study documents the growing economic divergence of America’s superstar cities from smaller urban and rural areas.
America's heartland is often left behind, as tech hubs pop up in coastal metros.
America's heartland is often left behind, as tech hubs pop up in coastal metros.Jim Young/Reuters

By selecting the New York and Washington, D.C., metros, Amazon’s HQ2 process is a telling reminder of the growing gap between a few superstar cities and the rest of the nation. A new Brookings Institution study released today documents this growing divide. The analysis by Clara Hendrickson, Mark Muro, and William Galston shows the deepening economic divergence and worsening spatial inequality that carves America into two separate and distinct nations, shaping the populist backlash. The researchers offer a series of strategies for addressing the gap and beginning to knit the nation back together.

The nation’s 53 large metros (those with more than 1 million people) represent just 2 percent of all places across America, yet accounted for nearly three-quarters of employment growth since the economic crash of 2008. Meanwhile, smaller places across the nation have fallen further and further behind. Since 2010, the more than 200,000 small towns and rural “micro” communities have seen negative economic growth. As the study notes, “nearly a decade after the Great Recession, the outlook for the places that have been left behind appears dim. Employment in many non-metropolitan places remains below its pre-recession level while the longer-term patterns of growth and divergence remain somber.”