Sea Level Rise in the Chesapeake Region May Expose Over 263,000 Jobs to Flood Risk by 2050

A new working paper has found that, due to sea level rise, approximately 263,500 jobs and $11.1 billion in wage income will be exposed to 100-year flooding in the Chesapeake Bay region by 2050.


May 4, 2023

News Type

Press Release

💡 What’s the story? 

A new working paper by a group of researchers from Resources for the Future (RFF) and George Mason University has found that, due to sea level rise, approximately 263,500 jobs and $11.1 billion in wage income will be exposed to 100-year flooding in the Chesapeake Bay region by 2050.

The study, accompanied by a Common Resources blog post, is the first to analyze the impacts of localized sea level rise on jobs and wages. It begins to draw a clearer picture of the economic viability of coastal communities in a future with more frequent and damaging flooding events.

The researchers’ analysis reveals that approximately 87,000 more jobs in the Chesapeake region will be exposed to flooding by 2050 due to sea level rise, up from 176,500 at present. These figures represent 3.3 and 5 percent of all jobs in the Chesapeake region now and in 2050, respectively. The study also identified several flooding “hot spots” around the region—counties and cities in Maryland and Virginia where 25 percent or more of jobs are flood-exposed.

🔎 How do we know? 

The team brought together several key data sources to reach its conclusions, including sea level rise projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wage information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, data on local businesses from the National Establishment Time Series database, and more. 

Based on these data sources, the researchers calculated present day and expected 2050 flood outcomes for 1-year and 100-year flood patterns. Using business’ specific locations and elevations, the team was able to pinpoint whether individual businesses would be at risk of flooding now and in the future. Using business-specific employment statistics, the team calculated the number of jobs at risk.

Author Perspective

“Learning more about who and where will be affected by sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay region, a part of the US coastline that is experiencing higher-than-average increases in relative sea levels, is increasingly important as we implement economic development and climate resilience policies in a changing world. We know that not all places are affected equally by climate change. But how? And to what extent? Understanding specific metrics will make sure that policies fit the places they’re supposed to benefit.”

—RFF Fellow Yanjun (Penny) Liao

🏘️ How does this affect communities?

The coast is an important driver of Virginia and Maryland’s economies: coastal counties account for 52 percent of all jobs in the two states. The paper finds that 44 Census tracts in these coastal counties have a combination of large numbers of jobs exposed to coastal flooding and high social vulnerability, including higher-than-average poverty and unemployment rates and lower median income compared to state averages.  

Understanding how climate change and sea level rise will affect community livelihoods should inform economic development and resilience policies, the authors state. Coastal communities will fare better in a future marked by climate change if economic development and resilience policies can build upon and reinforce each other. 

Notably, the estimates in the paper consider what areas are at risk of sea level rise given current climate adaptation measures. Future endeavors that communities undertake to protect homes and businesses could change estimates of at-risk jobs.

Bivariate Map of 100-Year Flood Exposure in 2050 and Social Vulnerability

Figure 4 SLR.png

Author Perspective

“Economic development and the effects of climate change aren’t independent. Community leaders should be looking to the future and ensuring that economic development policies, which promote business and job creation, are in line with climate adaptation and resilience programs. That could mean, for example, incentivizing economic development away from flood plains and other at-risk areas.” 

—Margaret Walls, Senior Fellow and Director of RFF’s Climate Risk and Resilience Program

🌎  What’s next?

These findings suggest a need to coordinate state economic development policies with climate adaptation and resilience strategies. Many states promote economic development through tax credits, grants, and other incentives, particularly in communities that lag others in jobs, wages, and business growth. However, some of these communities can be more susceptible to flooding. This new paper helps further the discussion by pinpointing where, specifically, specialized help may be needed to support economically and climatically at-risk communities.

📚 Where can I learn more?

For more, read the working paper, “Jobs at Risk: Sea Level Rise, Coastal Flooding, and Local Economies,” by RFF Fellow Yanjun (Penny) Liao, Senior Research Analyst Sophie Pesek, Senior Fellow Margaret Walls, and George Mason University Associate Professor Celso Ferreira.  

For more commentary, read Pesek, Liao, and Walls’ blog post, “Climate-Smart Economies: Coordinating Economic Development with Resilience Planning.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

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