A House Divided: Geographic Disparities
in Twenty-First Century America


During much of the twentieth century, economic outcomes across the United States became more similar over time, as poorer states caught up with richer ones. In recent decades, however, this convergence process has stalled. At the local level, the trend toward divergent outcomes is reflected in the growth of cities that appear to offer more economic opportunity than less-favored cities or rural areas. Of course, region-specific economic shocks have been present throughout US history. Previous generations of workers displaced by these shocks have typically moved to areas with better job prospects. Yet in the last few decades, interstate migration has become less effective as a regional adjustment mechanism—perhaps because many workers find it difficult to afford the high housing costs common in thriving locales. A related issue is how educational advancement and health outcomes are tied to the economic conditions present in specific geographic locations. This conference will examine several geographic differences of interest to policymakers, including differences in labor markets, health and education, and the quality of life. How have geographic disparities in the United States evolved over the past few decades, and what underlying forces gave rise to them? How does geography relate to education, occupational choice, and other factors that have been linked to income inequality? And should there be a policy response? Does the emergence of “superstar” cities, the decline in migration, and the growing differences in regional living costs call for policies that target places rather than people? If so, which place-based policies stand the best chance of success?


October 4–5, 2019


Federal Reserve Bank
of Boston
600 Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02210


Photo of Benjamin K. Couillard

Benjamin K. Couillard
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Photo of Christopher L. Foote

Christopher L. Foote
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Photo of Jay C. Shambaugh

Jay C. Shambaugh
George Washington University

Photo of Sarah E. Turner

Sarah E. Turner
University of Virginia

Photo of Jonathan S. Skinner

Jonathan S. Skinner
The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College

Photo of Raven Saks Molloy

Raven Saks Molloy
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Photo of Eric Rosengren

Eric S. Rosengren
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Photo of Christopher Smith

Christopher L. Smith
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Photo of László J. Kulcsár

László J. Kulcsár
Pennsylvania State University

Photo of Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman
City University of New York

Photo of Gilles Duranton

Gilles Duranton
University of Pennsylvania

Photo of Carol Graham

Carol Graham
The Brookings Institution, University of Maryland

Photo of Matthew E. Kahn

Matthew E. Kahn
University of Southern California

Photo of David Neumark

David Neumark
University of California, Irvine

Photo of Sérgio Pinto

Sérgio Pinto
Harvard Business School

Photo of David H. Autor

David H. Autor
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Photo of Richard Florida

Richard Florida
University of Toronto

Photo of Edward L. Glaeser

Edward L. Glaeser
Harvard University

Photo of Jonathan Gruber

Jonathan Gruber
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Photo of Jeffrey Thompson

Jeffrey Thompson
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Photo of Betsey Stevenson

Betsey Stevenson
University of Michigan

Photo of Lawrence H. Summers

Lawrence H. Summers
Harvard University

Photo of Katheryn N. Russ

Katheryn N. Russ
University of California, Davis

Photo of Lawrence F. Katz

Lawrence F. Katz
Harvard University

Photo of Davide Furceri

Davide Furceri
International Monetary Fund

Photo of Amy Ellen Schwartz

Amy Ellen Schwartz
Syracuse University