Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Beyond Job Growth

If you don't like the numbers, then find another metric. I can imagine that this very thought crosses the reader's mind when I'm engaging in another round of Pittsburgh boosterism. From my guest post at The Urbanophile:

If you are familiar with my blog (Burgh Diaspora), then you know I’m fond of linking to this post from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago titled, “Growth and Great Lakes Cities”. As you might expect, Pittsburgh sports poor job creation over the last 40-years. Weighing per capita income, Pittsburgh is a hands-down winner.

The job creation numbers are nothing to brag about, but the rise in per capita income is worthy of praise. That's convenient if you want to promote Pittsburgh. I think there is a lot more to the Pittsburgh story than cherry picking the data. I see a new economic development paradigm. Via Brain Kelsey, there can be good news without job growth:

So here's a radical idea: Maybe it's time to begin measuring success in economic development differently. Maybe the sheer number of jobs isn't really the metric we should use.

After all, communities -- as well as regions and states -- base their prosperity on a wide variety of factors. These factors include their success in business and industrial sectors that are growing; the extent to which the business-generated wealth stays in the community; whether there is a good match between labor skills and labor demands; and the quality of the jobs themselves. Having a job is generally better than not having one, but as Manuel Pastor, professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California is fond of saying about Los Angeles: "There are plenty of jobs. They're just crappy jobs."

The author is careful to point out that economic development is still all about employment. But a growing number of jobs is not always a positive for a region, which makes perfect sense to a blogger who makes it his job to point out the folly of sensational headlines about population and net migration. This city might be shrinking, but it is also getting smarter. There is brain gain as the absolute number of residents dwindle.

These days, there is a different kind of work being done in Pittsburgh. The result is better paying jobs than there were before the steel industry collapsed. Peak employment during one era is quite different than peak employment in another, even when the numbers are the same. Net job growth is zero and Pittsburgh is much the richer.


Daniel said...

The way we measure cities now, 100,000 low-quality beats 20,000 high-quality jobs. It's absurd.

randy said...

Well stated Daniel.