The economy is strong by most measures, and job creation is up, but there’s no law that companies have to create employment near to where their employees live.

According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, the number of jobs within typical commuting distance of residents in major metro areas fell by a whopping 7 percent between 2000 and 2012. Blame the suburbanization of America.

For people in rural areas and small cities, the job picture didn’t change much, but that's not the story with bigger regions. In the Cleveland-Elyria region of Ohio, for instance, there were 200,066 jobs within the typical commuting distance of residents in 2000, and only 161,694 in 2012. That’s a decline of 26.5 percent. The Detroit-Warren, Michigan region lost more than 100,000 commutable jobs (down 25.6 percent). And we'll come back to typical commuting distance in a minute.

This problem particularly hurts poor and minority job seekers, who moved to the suburbs in great numbers during the 2000s. The report says the number of jobs near the typical Hispanic resident fell by 17 percent, and near the typical black resident it was down by 14 percent. Meanwhile, for whites it was down only 6 percent. The same pattern was true for typical poor residents (down 17 percent) versus non-poor (down 6 percent).

I owe, I owe, so it's off to work I go — on a long commute in Atlanta.

I owe, I owe, so it's off to work I go — on a long commute. (Photo: Doug Waldron/Flickr)

This pattern is particularly reflected in majority-minority Atlanta, which also happens to be MNN's home base. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Brookings’ report illustrates that Atlantans now “have the longest commute in the country,” as well as some of the nation’s worst traffic. That’s a portrait of misery, when taken together.

Atlanta’s metro area — which is defined in this report as including 29 counties — has 5 million people and 2 million jobs, plus typical commuting distances of 12.8 miles. The northeast suburbs are the best off because they have the highest job densities in the region, Brookings said. (But typical commuting distances vary by area. In contrast, the Stockton, California metro area, which covers just one county with fewer than 700,000 residents and more than 160,000 jobs, has a typical commute distance of 4.7 miles, according to the report.)

Getting into the weeds here, the average neighborhood in the city of Atlanta has 4,760 jobs per square mile, with the average resident being near about 800,000 jobs. But way down in Meriwether County in Central Georgia, there are 10 jobs per square mile, and only 4,340 jobs within typical commuting distance. Proximity to jobs declined by 11 percent in the city itself, and by 14 percent in the Atlanta suburbs.

About 500 job seekers showed up at a career fair sponsored by the College of DuPage

About 500 job seekers showed up at a career fair sponsored by the College of DuPage in Illinois. Where colleges are located also affects the job creation balance. (Photo: College of DuPage/Flickr)

The findings, Brookings said, “point to the need for more integrated and collaborative regional strategies around economic development.” In other words, figuring out how to get suburban workforces to city jobs. That means good public transit, including bus and light rail — something resisted by anti-rail forces in Atlanta (they famously wanted to double-decker the crowded highways instead). Here's the argument for that, from the Reason Foundation, but it's a well-known fact that you can't build your way out of congestion. Wherever rail has been built, including in Atlanta, it’s had high usage, resulting in calls for expansion of the lines in all directions.

C’mon folks, this ain’t rocket science. We have to bring people and jobs together.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.