Ranking U.S. Job Growth by Geographic Region

RealPage Market Analytics has explored performances variations across the regions in a series of blog posts covering apartment demand by region, occupancy by region, supply by region and rent growth by region. The last piece we’ll examine is arguably the most important, as all the other aspects of the market are driven by this one: job growth.

U.S. employers added nearly 3.1 million jobs in the year-ending June, increasing the existing employment base by 2.8%. That is roughly double the annual job growth the nation was clocking in the five years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the average annual gain was 1.6 million jobs, increasing by an annual pace of 1.7%.

The economic crisis of 2020 resulted in the deepest job decline the nation had ever seen, with cuts bottoming out at 14 million jobs lost in the year-ending April 2020. Job cuts were universal across the regions, but nowhere more damaging than in the Northeast, home to some of the largest, most dense, most expensive markets. The South region, home to the more affordable Sun Belt markets, also saw a decline, but the setback there was comparatively moderate.

In 2021, the economy surged as the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available, and the country went back to work. Unprecedented job growth swept the nation, and again the Northeast led the charge for the workforce recovery. More recently, job growth has settled into a steadier rhythm. All the jobs lost during the pandemic have been regained – and then some – and job growth continues at a pace notably elevated above pre-pandemic norms.

The South

While the South falls short on rent growth in comparison to its regional peers, this part of the country is winning in every other fundamental, including job growth.

As the country started closing down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sun Belt benefitted early from a population influx. Workers who enjoyed the benefit of higher wages in gateway cities were suddenly given the opportunity to work from anywhere. Many workers fled to smaller coastal towns where the cost of living was much less expensive. Florida and Texas, in particular, were key beneficiaries of this population shift.

South region markets added roughly 1.5 million jobs in the past year, increasing the existing employment base by 3.4%. Those were both nationwide leading performances. The Dallas and Houston markets rank among the top five nationwide, gaining 120,000 to 150,000 jobs each.

The South is also the region that has seen the most economic progress since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The region now has 2.4 million more jobs than it did in February 2020, before the pandemic decline started. The nationwide economic decline in 2020 was mildest in the South region, and the recovery in 2021 was also temperate.

In total, the South had 44.3 million jobs as of June 2023. That is the biggest volume nationwide and comes in 14.6 million jobs ahead of the #2 region, the West.

The West

After the South, the West region of the country is #2 across the board for employment statistics. The West Coast in particular is known for its very expensive rental rates, lifestyle appeal and bustling urban cores. These areas saw a population decline early in the pandemic but have since recovered very well. Traditionally an undersupplied region, the West doesn’t generally have any trouble drumming up rent growth. Or jobs. 

Employers the West region added 753,000 new jobs in the year-ending June, which increased the existing employment count by 2.6%. Those additions brought total employment up to 29.7 million jobs. Los Angeles was the West region’s biggest job growth market, adding 106,200 jobs in the past year.

The job decline in 2020 in the West was only slightly worse than the moderate setback in the South and the recovery in the West region was also moderate. Since then, the West has replaced all the jobs that were lost during the downturn, plus added 1 million additional positions.

The Midwest

The Midwest region added 471,600 jobs in the year-ending June, increasing the existing base by 2.2%. That was the softest percentage increase nationwide. Chicago was the Midwest’s top job growth performer, adding 89,200 jobs in the past year.

The Midwest is the nation’s most affordable apartment market, and the performance here is generally a slow-and-steady creature of habit. Job growth is also generally slow-and-steady in the Midwest. During the pandemic decline of 2020, however, the setback was significant here. The recovery in 2021, however, was also notable.

As of June, total employment in the Midwest came in at 22.2 million jobs, including 580,600 positions added since February 2020.

The Northeast

The small Northeast region saw the smallest job growth in the past year, with a gain of 381,000 jobs.* That translated into 2.4% growth, slightly more than what was seen in the Midwest.

In total, the Northeast has 16 million jobs as of June. Markets here saw the deepest employment decline during the COVID-19 pandemic downturn in 2020, but also saw the biggest turnaround in 2021. Since regaining all the jobs lost during the pandemic, the Northeast has added an additional 445,000 jobs.

*New York data has been excluded from Northeast region calculations, as this market’s behavior is not representative of typical regional patterns. Were New York’s data to be added to the analysis, weighted data from the nation’s largest city would skew the results for the region.

To be fair, New York is the nation’s biggest employer, with 7.4 million jobs as of June. Were we to add New York to the Northeast, this region would beat out the Midwest with a total of 23.4 million jobs. New York tends to consistently remain at the top of the market leader board for job growth. In the year-ending June, New York added 221,500 jobs, well ahead of the #2 market, Dallas, with 149,600 jobs.