About the Struggling Regions Initiative

Realizing Our Growth Potential


Place matters more than ever before in the modern American economy. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, over half of total U.S. GDP is produced by only 20 metropolitan areas. The New York metropolitan area alone accounts for over 10 percent of the nation's output in any given year, and with only 6 percent of its population. America may remain the land of opportunity, but in way that has become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer locations.

The contemporary success of cities has an ominous flip side. Once-vibrant regions across the United States are struggling with population decline, the collapse of industries, and shrinking tax bases. Meanwhile, cities themselves have failed to properly absorb newcomers in search of opportunity, driving up rents and exacerbating local inequality. Policymakers often treat these two kinds of inequality — inter-regional and intra-regional — as separate. But what if they are two sides of the same coin?

It’s within this context that the Niskanen Center’s Poverty and Welfare Policy program has launched its Struggling Regions Initiative. With generous support from the Rockefeller Foundation, we intend to push the frontier of research into the issues facing struggling regions with the goal of developing new ideas for broadly shared economic growth.

The Niskanen Center’s Poverty and Welfare program was established on the theory that free and dynamic markets work best when complemented with robust forms of social insurance. With this new project, our program expands its purview from the big and universal to the targeted and particular, based on the theory that regionally concentrated distress is fundamentally a problem of arrested economic development. From the best response to deindustrialization to the inclusive development of cities, our project takes a holistic view of place-based policy and evaluates the good, bad, and ugly of the tools available.

If we want to remain a leading economy, we change on our own, or change will continue to be forced upon us.
— Andy Grove, 1936 - 2016