The State of Metropolitan America

Brookings Institution

The State of Metropolitan America – On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation

A recent report published by the Brookings Institution examines the changing nature of American society through the lens of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, the results of which are quite telling.

This report, which can be accessed here , compiles an analysis of 2000-2008 census data into an interesting look at who we are becoming as a nation. These new realities, as seen through the nation’s met­ropolitan areas, are compelling. When reading this national assessment, it is hard not to recognize similarities with ARC’s recently completed Plan 2040 Regional Assessment  – the only existing document in the region that takes a comprehensive look at the issues facing our metropolitan area. The State of Metropolitan America is almost assuredly the only document that uses this scale of data to paint a picture of the issues affecting the nation. A few of the highlights are touched on below.


Brookings’ State of Metropolitan America first assesses where clear distinctions and lines can be drawn when considering the profile of the nation’s metropolitan areas. Historically, data analysis has led to an easy distinction between regions – such as the Sun Belt or Snow Belt. And while each metropolitan area still possesses a unique social, demographic, and economic profile, the dis­tinctions among the nation’s metropolitan areas no longer fit into these clear-cut groupings. Instead, the State of Metropolitan America begins by focusing on what differentiates these areas as far as population growth, population diversity and educational attainment, as compared to national averages.

Atlanta was considered a New Heartland region – one of 19 regions classified as an area that is fast grow­ing, contains highly-educated locales, but has lower shares of Hispanic and Asian populations than the national average. These metropolitan areas are also said to be characterized by service-based econo­mies which attracted many middle-class migrants during the 2000s, an in-migration that allows Heartland areas a more racially equitable educa­tional profile than other metropolitan types.

As with the 1990s, the post-2000 period was largely a good one for big-city populations. Among the pri­mary cities of the 100 large metros, 67 showed gains from 2000 to 2008. This trend was not lost on the Atlanta region, which added 1.1 million people in the last eight years, making it the second-fastest growing metro in the country behind Dallas.

 The Brookings analysis recognized that the fastest-growing primary cities tended to be located inside some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Likewise, declining primary cities were located in metro areas that experienced slow growth or decline (Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh). These metro areas saw population losses in their suburbs as well.

However, the fastest-growing suburbs in the 100 largest metro areas do not match up closely with the fastest-growing primary cities. Atlanta was noted as one city in which population growth was recognized within the city limits, yet growth in the suburbs slowed, as demonstrated in the table below (pulled from the Brookings report).  This phenomenon may not be news to everyone, as this trend has been recognized in the city in recent years, as more and more residents have demonstrated a renewed interest in in-town living.

Atlanta Georgia Primary Cities and Suburbs

The report also illustrated that for the first time, a majority of all racial/ethnic groups in large metro areas live in the suburbs. The Brookings report noted that Atlanta share of the White population increased during the 2000s, a somewhat new occurrence.  ARC’s Plan 2040 Assessment document also recognized this shift, but also highlights an expected dynamic shift in the racial and ethnic profile of the entire region over the next 30 years. Over these three decades, the Atlanta region will transition from a largely bi-racial region to a region with no ethnic or racial majority. The Census Bureau anticipates that by 2027, most U.S. population growth will be driven by immigration rather than by natural increase (more births than deaths). ARC’s forecast reflects this estimate, particularly in the White-non Hispanic population. Over the next 30 years, Black and White natural population change will decrease, with White non-Hispanic becoming negative in the latter years of the planning horizon.

 Additionally, the Assessment details significant shifts the region will experience related to the age of the population, a phenomenon also realized in Brookings’ State of Metropolitan America. According to this national report, America’s population of “pre-seniors” (age 55 to 64) grew by half in the 2000s. This baby boom generation will contribute to massive growth rates of the 65-and-over population in the next two decades. Similarly, child populations grew in two-thirds of large metro areas in the 2000s, but declined in one-third. An interesting fact to note, three decades ago approximately half of the share of households had children, compared to 21 percent expected nationally in year 2030.

Currently, the Atlanta metro is a very young area when compared to other metros in the nation. Atlanta has the second-largest share, behind only Dallas, of those aged 25 to 39, generally referred to as “Generation X,” when compared to 26 other metro areas with a population larger than two million. Conversely, the Atlanta MSA currently has the lowest share of population over the age of 65, but this is the fastest-growing age group in the 20-county Atlanta region. In fact, by 2030, one out of every five residents will be over the age of 60. This trend coupled with the tripling of metro Atlanta retirees, many of whom will look to downsize their homes, speaks to a potential mismatch in current housing stock and future housing stock potentially forcing changes to local regulations that tend to favor large, detached units.

 Both of these documents represent a fundamental shift occurring in how our nation and region is evolving. In the future, the region may not only be facing a mismatch in the types of housing available, but may also see a transformation in the types of communities desired by consumers. Across the country, research shows that many urban neighborhoods are experiencing dramatic transformations where higher residential types are replacing parking lots, underutilized commercial sites and former industrial sites. Future development trends suggest a residential market near mass transit stops, infill areas in suburban markets with traffic problems and mixed-use construction in urbanizing suburban nodes. Some speculate this will cause outer-ring suburban and exurban areas to experience greater losses as the market demand continues to shift toward infill neighborhoods. These are the sorts of issues that are dissected through both the ARC’s Plan 2040 Regional Assessment and the Brookings Institution’s  State of Metropolitan America.

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