Long-term employment trends are reshaping metropolitan Washington's economy, stimulating substantial growth in outlying suburban jurisdictions at the expense of the District, according to a report released today by the Greater Washington Research Center.
The report -- the most comprehensive analysis done to date on the redistribution of jobs in the area, found substantial but unequal job growth in the area during a 15-year span beginning in 1967.
Titled "Emerging Employment Patterns in the Washington Area and Its Jurisdictions," it is one of several reports being developed by the GWRC as part of an in-depth study of the area's economy.
Total employment in metropolitan Washington increased from 1.3 million to 1.6 million between 1967 and 1977, indicating a growth rate of more than 22 percent. In the five years that followed -- a period that included the nation's worst recession since the Great Depression -- the area's economy gained almost 154,000 jobs, or an increase of nearly 10 percent, according to the study.
All jurisdictions have not shared equally in this growth, however. Consumer and business service activities and those that are sensitive to transportation costs and access have shifted from the area's center to its suburban jurisdictions, the report says. This trend has been more favorable for the three outlying Northern Virginia counties than it has for corresponding Maryland counties, the report adds.
In the meantime, the District's employment base actually contracted during the period between 1967 and 1977. This pattern, with only a few exceptions, was repeated between 1977 and 1982. Even though employment in the District's services sector increased between 1977 and 1982, its rate of growth (18.5 percent) was much smaller than the area average (29.3 percent).
"This sectoral performance -- below-average growth or decline -- suggests that the relocation of jobs to the suburban jurisdictions is continuing and that the District has not been competitive for new jobs," said the report's author, Stephen S. Fuller, a professor of urban and regional planning at George Washington University.
Fuller noted, however, that the District's employment performance during the two periods covered in the study is not unusual for central cities. The decline, he added, "reflects the growing economic competition provided by the suburban jurisdictions, where labor forces and markets grew during the '60s and '70s, along with population."
At a briefing yesterday, Fuller described the loss of jobs to the suburbs as a "very complex problem." He also cautioned against assigning blame for the problem. The disparity in economic growth, Fuller added, "doesn't assume that anyone is doing anything wrong."
Fuller said the shift of jobs from the urban center to the suburbs is a function of transportation systems that began to mature during the 1960s as population patterns changed. In addition, he said, land not only costs less in the suburbs but also is more easily developed.
R. Robert Linowes, the research center's chairman, suggested, nonetheless, that the District government ought to address the loss of jobs through the use of such tools as new land use policies, job-training programs and incentives to attract new businesses. "It's important to try to develop an economic policy program" to counter the geographic redistribution in economic activities, Linowes asserted.
Employment in the District declined by more than 25,000 jobs between 1967 and 1977, and its three largest job sectors -- retail trade, services and government -- showed the greatest weakness. Those trends continued between 1977 and 1982 when, for example, the District lost 19,000 retail trade jobs.
D.C. government officials yesterday disputed the findings in the report while maintaining that job growth in the city actually increased by 17,300, or 3 percent, between 1977 and 1982.
"We feel we're making real strides in the District and that report, which contains 1982 figures, is out of date," said Ed Meyers, director of planning for the D.C. Department of Employment Services. "Our figures show that we're recovering from the recession and the report does not show that."
Overall, employment in the Washington area grew less vigorously between 1977 and 1982 than it did from 1967 to 1977, the report shows. In both periods, however, employment in metropolitan Washington grew faster than in the nation as a whole. Most of that growth occurred in Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which accounted for more than 90 percent of the gains recorded in the 1967-'77 period and 83 percent between 1977 and 1982. Fairfax County, with such major centers of growth as Tysons Corner, was the big gainer, accounting for slightly less than 50 percent of the area's jobs growth.
While government remains the dominant factor in area employment, its relative importance has declined since 1967, the report shows, emphasizing a point that was made a year ago in the GWRC's initial study of the local economy.