Even as economic conditions in cities have improved in the years since the Great Recession, a new study from the National League of Cities (NLC) found that many factors — including lack of affordable housing, poverty, and skill and achievement gaps —are impeding the long-term economic sustainability of cities. Cities and Unequal Recovery, an analysis based on a survey of more than 250 city officials from cities of all sizes, uncovers dual realities in cities, where even as conditions improve, persistent challenges prevent the benefits of this growth from reaching many.
“Our nation’s cities are on the front lines of economic recovery, and the widespread improvement we’ve seen is a testament to local policies and initiatives that support businesses and create new jobs in our communities,” said National League of Cities President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah. “But unfortunately that growth doesn’t extend to everyone in our communities, and wealth and skills gaps are widening. As we look toward the future, cities can help close those gaps with policies that promote greater equity and inclusion for our residents.”
The survey found that nearly all cities saw economic improvement in the past year, with 28 percent of city officials reporting vast improvement and 64 percent reporting slight improvement.
Drivers of growth — including new business startups, business expansions, property values and retail sector health — starkly contrast with the reality of many residents on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Skills gaps, lack of affordable housing and the rising demand for basic needs, like food and shelter, reveal that while economic conditions are improving for some, they are worsening for others.
“Our survey shows that the dynamics between growth and stagnation are acutely apparent in cities, where the reality of these trends result in severe extremes,” said Christiana McFarland, director of research at the National League of Cities and an author of the report. “This is troubling both socially and economically, which is why inclusive growth strategies are incredibly important for the economic health of our cities.”
The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.