The metros where low-wage jobs make up the largest share of job growth since 2009 are in the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt: St. Louis (where 90 percent of new jobs are low-wage); California’s so-called Inland Empire of Riverside–San Bernardino (where nearly three-quarters of new jobs are low-wage); New Orleans; Tampa; Orlando; Columbus, Ohio; and Rochester, New York (where more than half of new jobs are low-wage). Temp jobs account for an extraordinarily large share of recent job growth in Memphis, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.
Percentage Increase for Low-Wage Jobs, 2009–13
It is striking, nonetheless, how some of the hardest-hit places have begun to sow the seeds of recovery in ways few people, including myself, would have predicted.
Detroit has been a case study in industrial decline and white flight for decades. Long before the economic crisis, its population had cratered and its city services had collapsed. In many ways, things have gone from terrible to even worse in the wake of the crisis. As of July, the city is officially bankrupt, with the fates of thousands of municipal pensioners hanging in the balance.
Yet amid all of that truly dreadful news are signs of a comeback. Despite the continuing exodus of its residents, Detroit has posted the third-highest rate of productivity growth of any large metro since the crash. And while the greater Detroit region is home to affluent suburbs and has world-class research and knowledge communities like Ann Arbor just outside its borders, reinvestment in the city’s once-burned-out core is spurring a partial recovery in Detroit itself. The past several years have seen a flow of new residents into the downtown area, including architects, designers, techies, and innovative musicians.
Much of the immediate impetus for the boom has been provided by Quicken Loans, whose billionaire founder, Dan Gilbert, has been taking advantage of Detroit’s real-estate collapse to amass millions of square feet of real estate. A major new initiative is under way to animate the business districts with dozens of pop-up food markets, cafés, restaurants, and shops. Though these developments don’t begin to erase the city’s misery, the fact that some green shoots are pushing upward is astonishing.
Something similar is happening in downtown Las Vegas, in and around its Fremont East neighborhood, a place that had also fallen into steep decline, even before Las Vegas’s housing market imploded. Two years ago, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of the online apparel retailer Zappos, leased the old Las Vegas city hall for his new corporate headquarters, bringing jobs into the area. (Hsieh has called upon me, as well as other urban experts, to advise him from time to time.) He’s also investing hundreds of millions of his own dollars into his much-ballyhooed Downtown Project, which seeks to turn the area into a thriving tech hub in just five years by attracting companies from places like the Bay Area; opening cafés, bars, theaters, and restaurants; using shipping containers to create instant start-up incubators; and launching bike- and car-sharing programs (the latter includes a fleet of 100 Tesla electric cars). “One of our goals is to have everything you need to live, work, and play within walking distance,” he told Inc. magazine in May. “In an ideal world, we’d like to help people get rid of their cars.”