The gap between the rich and the poor can be as wide within countries as across countries, with wealth and services generally concentrated in cities. In part this reflects differences in the performance of regions, as across OECD countries 10% of regions are responsible for some 40% of national GDP and employment.
Taking advantage of the economic potential of all regions could help governments grow their national, regional and local economies. To inform their decisions, OECD’s Regions at a Glance and its accompanying interactive website provide regionally and nationally comparative statistics on factors (including education) which effect the economy and citizens’ quality of life in the OECD area and emerging economies.
Long-term unemployment rates vary widely across regions in many countries. In some regions of Spain, people are six times more likely to be jobless than in others while in the Slovak Republic, Italy and Belgium they are four times more likely to have been unemployed for more than one year. There is a similar disparity in household income; people in some regions in Chile, the Slovak Republic, Australia, Canada and Hungary are 40% richer than the national average.
Though almost half the population lives in urban regions, with the highest percentage in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, in some countries - Korea, Hungary and the U.S. - people are moving out of cities to intermediate or rural areas.
The challenge for governments is to encourage economic growth in these areas by providing the same services - jobs, education and healthcare – as cities offer. During the financial crisis, rural areas lost more jobs than cities, and overall some regions were hit harder than others. In the U.S., for example, of the 7.5 million jobs needed to bring employment levels back to the 2007 level, about 1 million are needed in California alone.
In nearly all countries, urban dwellers have access to better schools. And with the exception of Finland, the US, Korea and Denmark, people living in cities are far more likely to have completed university than those in intermediate or rural regions. Improving education systems outside major centres would increase the number of skilled workers needed to promote growth in all regions. At present, there is a huge gap between regions in the Czech Republic, Austria and Denmark – in some only 5% of employees work in R&D and in others more than 50%. Moreover, almost half of all patent applications are made in just 10% of OECD regions. Improving communications connectivity would ensure that all regions can benefit from the new technologies and network spillovers.
Unequal access to medical care is also a challenge for policy makers. In the U.S. and Russia, for example, there are about 2 doctors per thousand population in some regions and up to 8 per thousand in others. In two-thirds of the countries surveyed, the vast majority of doctors practice in urban areas. Ageing populations will make this an ever larger concern given that in two-thirds of OECD countries most elderly people live in intermediate or rural regions.
These wide disparities between regions within OECD countries can be both a drain on national economies and an obstacle to better jobs and life-style opportunities. Regions at a Glance can help all levels of government create stronger, fairer and cleaner economies.