Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Education Geography

Related to yesterday's post (I'll make the connection later), Edward Glaeser reviews the case of Argentina. The lack of wealth growth in that country over the last century is almost unbelievable. Glaeser explains the outlier as the result meager investment in human capital. That lesson has become the mantra of US mayors everywhere, including the one in Philadelphia:

ALMOST every time I interview Mayor Nutter on the issues du jour on my radio program, we swerve into an update on his vision of a Philadelphia with a greatly increased college-educated population. It's obvious that education is not just policy for the mayor, it's a passion.

Some call this agenda elitist. Others attack it as a frill with all the problems the city has. I think it's about time we address the dirty little secret that Philadelphia has one of the lowest college-graduate levels for those over 25 of any major U.S. city.

This problem not only stifles many new businesses from considering Philadelphia, but I think it even degrades the overall level of understanding of issues like the raging health-care debate.

According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, Philadelphia ranks only 92 out of the top 100 U.S. cities in those over-25s who have a degree, with only about 20 percent of Philadelphians having one.

In Seattle, 53 percent have one. In Oakland, Calif., it's 34 percent. Yes, Oakland. As if that weren't bad enough, in Pittsburgh, it's 32 percent. That's no typo.

I love the jab at Philly pride. Behind Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh? As I wrote over at New Geography, Pittsburgh has been well ahead of the curve in educational attainment as an economic development strategy. Only now are the dividends becoming obvious.

The link to yesterday's post about Pittsburgh's unique demography and the ticking talent time bomb, the region has more brains than most realize. From Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile):

Pittsburgh has natural population decrease, indicating a more elderly and thus likely less productive population. This might account for its lower GDP per capita score and the very high increase in it (capita is decreasing with natural decrease).

Aaron is merely generating hypotheses and his line of thinking makes sense. However, as Glaeser reminds us, the key correlation is with educational attainment. Since 1969, Pittsburgh's income per capita and educational attainment out-perform its Midwestern cohort. The exodus of the early 1980s scattered this talent all over the country. More importantly, it set the stage for Pittsburgh's unique natural decline.

Brookings recently issued a report which identifies an interesting Rust Belt trend:

Finally, areas in the long-declining manufacturing regions surrounding the Great Lakes, such as Pittsburgh, continue to experience difficulty in attracting many and retaining many college graduates (Figure 6-1). Their rates of educational attainment continue to rise due to aging of their populations, but many are seeking to re-invent themselves and their economies more deliberately by retaining their “homegrown” college graduates, and attracting both high- and low-skilled immigrants.

What this means is that as the natural decline progresses, it will reveal a more educated population. This will occur more dramatically in Pittsburgh than anywhere else. Pittsburgh is losing the less educated and what little in-migration is happening tends to be highly educated. All the while, increase in GDP per capita will continue to out-pace similar cities. Already emerging is a relatively younger, smart city ready to receive more talent. Well, as I wrote yesterday, not quite ready.

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