The Top Cities for College Graduates

While major metropolises like Los Angeles and New York City have long served as Meccas for young talent, new research by CityLab and the Martin Prosperity Institute reveal several medium-sized but fast-growing cities that are overtaking these traditional destinations. Here is the data in question, which is based on the net domestic migration of workers from one city to another between 2011 and 2012.

Not that the map doesn’t necessarily reflect larger trends, but rather which cities are seeing growth or decline in their skilled workforce; nevertheless, this gives us a pretty good idea of which cities will likely do better in the long run as their talent pool grows. Here’s an analysis courtesy of PolicyMic (my source for this data).

[The] cities that are attracting a coveted educated workforce are “knowledge and tech hubs like San Francisco, Austin, Seattle and Denver, and also Sun Belt metros like Phoenix, Charlotte and Miami.” In particular, “Seattle, San Francisco, D.C., Denver, San Jose, Austin and Portland, as well as the banking hub of Charlotte” are attracting Americans with professional and graduate degrees.

Overall, large metros (especially ones that cost a lot to live and work in) have seen their share of educated workers grow, even as lower-class workers get priced out. San Francisco; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Miami, for example, all saw a net reduction in less-educated workers. Meanwhile, the cities that saw the biggest influx of workers with just a high school diploma were all in Sun Belt states, mainly with thriving tourist and/or service economies.

Moreover, the analysis also determined that the cities most appealing to graduates and educated professionals tended to have the following characteristics: high concentrations of high-tech and venture capital firms, which tend to invest in the sort of start-ups younger people are more likely to launch; a strong cultural scene with a large creative class; and a high level of diversity and tolerance, particularly with respect to LGBTQ people (indeed, there was a correlation between a large LGBTQ population and growth in the number of young talent moving in).

None of this is too surprising, given that younger people typically favor more tolerance, culture, and social progressiveness. Such values create an atmosphere more conducive to creativity, innovation, and the exchange of ideas — which in turn are vital for a knowledge-based economy (I am also speaking from experience as a lifelong Miami resident currently working for a young marketing start-up that in turn works with other young start-ups).

Well, you might be wondering how it is that LA and NYC don’t perform better in this regard, given that they certainly fit the prerequisites that have benefited other cities. Unfortunately, there’s a clear reason for this: high rents and high levels of gentrification are basically pricing younger grads (among others) out of these cities; furthermore, their overall fast growth and size makes them a bit too crowded for younger people, who increasingly prefer medium-sized cities that offer something of a balance.

Granted, I find that there is a lot of inequality, gentrification, and poverty in the majority of medium-sized cities that have become popular (especially my own hometown of Miami, which ranks as the second-most unequal census area in the country). Will it be that the recent growth in professionals and talent help counteract these trends and bring prosperity? Or is their growth in this area a reflection of widening inequality, such that whole sections of these metros can thrive and growth while others languish and decline?

Again, speaking for Miami, I can say that the latter trend seems to be the case: a drive around the city will simultaneously take you past affluent and vibrant communities as well as blighted slums and ghettos — often right across the street from each other. The growth in talent is important, but how it’s harnessed and where is important. I welcome this trend of course, but I hope it leads to broader change rather than more yawning inequality; otherwise, these now-attractive cities may fall to the wayside just as previous metros have.

Your thoughts?



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