Growing apart and coming together: Long run inequality waves across US local labor markets

Authors: Thomas Kemeny*, Queen Mary University of London, Michael Storper, UCLA
Topics: Economic Geography, Historical Geography, Migration
Keywords: economic growth, development, cities, inequality, migration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Around 1980, interregional income inequality in the US began to grow. Some people moved to opportunity, newly concentrated in a limited subset of urbanized locations, but overall migration rates shrunk (Molloy et al., 2011). As a consequence, many Americans have become stuck in places that offer little economic opportunity. This shift is economically important, and it also appears to be related to the recent upsurge in populist politics (Inglehart and Norris, 2016). And yet divergence is not a constant or necessary feature of the space-economy. Indeed, it strongly contrasts with patterns experienced during the mid-20th century, where people were more mobile and gaps between places diminished. And partly because many of our core theories of urban growth and change are premised on the record of this earlier period, we face real challenges to explain what we see today, and to design policies that address the fallout. All of this points to an urgent need to (a) better understand the current moment, and in light of this (b) retheorize urban growth. In this paper we attempt to do both. We propose a theory in which regular, alternating patterns of convergence and divergence are built into the structure of capitalism. Major, disruptive technology shocks – or industrial revolutions – regulate this ‘wave’ pattern, increasing the gaps between places, and then later diminishing them. We sketch mechanisms that could generate these facts, and provide descriptive evidence in support of these ideas by analyzing information on US regional economies since 1860.

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