Uncovering JAPA

Measuring the Jobs-Housing Balance in California

Municipal government officials and policymakers are increasingly working to encourage a functional balance between housing and employment opportunities, particularly as cities face growing housing affordability crises that push residents to live further away from their jobs and lengthen their commute times. However, while this jobs-housing balance was a popular topic among researchers in the 1990s, it has received less research attention in recent years.

Jobs-housing Balance Trends in California

Evelyn Blumenberg and Hannah King revisit the issue in their new article for the Journal of the American Planning Association, "Jobs-Housing Balance Re-Re-Visited," in which they test how the jobs-housing balance has shifted in California cities and which factors might be influencing this shift. The authors specifically test whether cities in California have become more or less "self-contained" over time, which they measure using an independence ratio that compares the number of internal work trips in a city (in which the individual works and lives within that same city) to external work trips (in which the individual works or lives in a different city).

Figure 1: Independence Index.

California Cities Becoming Less Self-contained

For this measure, they draw data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Origins-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) data for 394 California municipalities for both 2002 and 2015. Blumenberg and King also recreate several of Cervero's analyses of the jobs-housing balance in the San Francisco Bay Area from his 1996 article "Jobs-Housing Balance Revisited," to see how their results compare with earlier research on the topic.

The authors find that the majority of California's cities are becoming less self-contained, with the independence index dropping from 0.075 in 2002 to 0.063 in 2015. This finding extends to cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 22 of the 23 cities included became less self-contained from 2002 to 2015. This finding shows a reversal from Cervero's findings that used jobs-housing data from the 1980s, and which showed that Bay Area cities were becoming more self-contained at the time.

When examining which other factors are associated with this decrease in self-containment, the authors find that large cities generally tend to be more self-contained than smaller cities, given the higher number of opportunities for both jobs and housing that they usually offer, and that higher vehicle owner rates are associated with less self-containment since people need to commute longer distances. They also importantly find that housing costs are negatively associated with self-containment, suggesting that rising housing costs in job-rich cities may be one-factor leading people to move further away and increase their commute times.

Lastly, they find that the independence ratio measuring self-containment is highest in what they term "balanced cities" (as opposed to more housing-rich or job-rich cities), in which the ratio of jobs to employed residents falls within half a standard deviation of the mean (i.e., is relatively balanced).

These findings affirm trends observed by many Californians in recent years around growing commutes and rising home prices and will provide insight for those looking to better understand how the job-housing balance within the state has shifted in recent decades. Ultimately, the authors make the case for a better alignment between housing, employment opportunities, and workers to lessen the trend of growing commute times.

Top image: Bertl123/ iStock/gettyiimagesplus

About the author
Ben Demers is a Master of Urban Planning and Master of Public Policy candidate at Harvard University.

September 16, 2021

By Benjamin Demers