Job Sprawl in Metro New Orleans

Allison Plyer Richard Campanella  (Tulane University)

Published: Jul 13, 2010

Jobs in the New Orleans metropolitan area are distributed in a manner very differently than people. While residences are fairly evenly dispersed across the cityscape, most jobs occur in three major clusters (the Central Business District, Greater Elmwood, and the Veterans/Causeway/I–10 area) as well as roughly a half–dozen secondary clusters and 40 additional smaller ones. The differing geographies of where people live and where they work shed light on the problems of road congestion, commuting time and expense, and reduced worker productivity and reliability. The maps and data in this brief may be used to inform policy on workforce housing, public transportation, land use, zoning, and economic development.


Over the past several decades, residents have moved away from New Orleans’ city center and into increasingly distant parishes. While “people sprawl” and its effects on road congestion are well understood, “job sprawl” and its impacts have received less attention. When new workplaces form along interstates and commercial corridors, it is difficult to design public transportation to access them effectively. Thus, workers are more dependent on autos, increasing road congestion and commuting time. In addition, research suggests that lower–density employment reduces opportunities for knowledge spillovers and high–value innovation activity by diminishing interactions among proximate firms and workers. The spatial distribution of jobs, therefore, has implications not only for housing and transportation policies, but also for economic development.


The New Orleans metro area has experienced significant job sprawl since the 1990s. Jefferson Parish now has more jobs than Orleans Parish in all income categories, and together the two parishes account for three–quarters of all regional jobs. Jefferson has more than 43,000 low–wage jobs (paying less than $1,250 per month) with nearly 22,000 of these workers commuting into the parish for work. Orleans Parish has the second largest number of low–wage jobs, and, like Jefferson, imports more low–wage workers for those jobs than it exports to other parishes. Orleans and Jefferson both have a sizable number of moderate–wage jobs paying $1,251 to $3,333 per month (59,554 and 81,441 moderate–wage jobs respectively). Lower housing costs in other parishes like St. John the Baptist and St. Bernard seem to be drawing residents working at low and moderate–wage jobs in Orleans and Jefferson. These long commutes add to road congestion and reduce worker productivity.


This brief examines exactly where jobs are located within Jefferson and Orleans parishes, compared to where workers live. It looks at where industries are clustered geographically and identifies the clusters with the largest numbers of low–, moderate–, and high–wage jobs. This analysis can help inform policies that support the location of workforce housing near low– and moderate–wage jobs to increase worker productivity and reliability, as well as the site–selection decisions of knowledge–dependent enterprises.