Insight: Class and Education – Austin and Cleveland … and Pittsburgh

This Insight is the seventh in the Martin Prosperity Institute’s continuing Geography of Class and Education Insight series. The two metros examined this week are Cleveland and Austin, which as in many of the previous posts provide a great juxtaposition to each other. While both metros have similar populations, the City of Cleveland has been experiencing population decline over the last 4 decades, while the City of Austin has experienced the exact opposite. Due to the population growth in the City of Austin, its population is now double that of the City of Cleveland. In both cases, the towns within the metro that are outside of the city contribute to a greater amount of the metro population than the central cities themselves. We also decided to add a third city to the end of this Insight, which is Pittsburgh, as we believe that it would provide an example of a metro that is situated between that of Cleveland and Austin in the knowledge economy.

Exhibit 1: Cleveland – Share of population 25+ with a BA or above

Click for full screen map.

Known in its past as one of the manufacturing capitals of the U.S., Cleveland was a city that attracted many workers during its industrial boom. After deindustrialization took place though, Cleveland has become synonymous with the rust belt and urban industrial decay. Recently much has been discussed about an urban resurgence taking place in Cleveland, similar to that in Detroit, as the city has invested in improving its urban infrastructure in the hope of bringing people back into the city. Exhibit 1 displays the class and education map of metro Cleveland and as shown, it is apparent that the City of Cleveland is facing some challenges. Almost all of the City of Cleveland is shaded light red or light blue, indicating low educational attainment and primarily Service Class (SC) or Working Class (WC) occupations within the tracts. This extends outside of the city into the metro as there are many tracts that also have very low degree shares. There is a small patch of highly educated Creative Class (CC) tracts in the downtown core and to the east of the core in the university circle neighbourhood. This is similar to some of the other cities that we have looked at like St Louis in which the only highly educated tracts within the city limits are found right downtown and by a university.

Exhibit 2: Austin – Share of population 25+ with a BA or above

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Displayed in Exhibit 2 is the class and education map for Austin and at first glance, the results look extremely different from our Cleveland results. Primarily, when looking within the city and metro of Austin, the results are almost an inversion of Cleveland. Where the city of Cleveland was primarily demarcated by light red and blue, the City of Austin is almost all dark purple. This is a testament to the growth of the creative and knowledge economy within the City of Austin. Austin is well recognized as one of the best places for business and careers, technology and according to Forbes; Austin was the number 2 place for job growth in the U.S (2012). Austin is not only a place in which highly educated Creative Class (CC) occupations are thriving, but art and music have always been an essential part of Austin’s economy. There are numerous light purple tracts within the city and metro, indicating lower education levels, yet primarily CC. This is possibly due to an influx of artists and musicians within the area, and in Austin there are lighter purple tracts than many of the cities that we have looked at. In the eastern parts of both the city and metro we find lower and medium education levels and, primarily SC tracts, but not as many as were found in Cleveland. What is also interesting is that thanks to Dell and numerous biotech manufacturing companies within the metro area, there are also numerous primarily WC tracts within Austin, which is often forgotten when thinking of the region as a tech centre.

Numerous publications from MSN to Forbes have discussed Pittsburgh as becoming an emerging boomtown and hotspot for tech companies and educated individuals similar to that of Austin. With a similar population to both Austin and Cleveland we felt that it would be interesting to add a third metro to this Insight, to see how Pittsburgh actually looks from an educational and occupational perspective.

Exhibit 3: Pittsburgh – Share of population 25+ with a BA or above

Click for full screen map.

The class and education map of Pittsburgh shows that while the metro does have numerous highly educated CC and SC tracts, it is nowhere near the same degree of that in Austin. While there is a cluster of highly educated tracts within the downtown, once again like in Cleveland, many of the highly educated tracts in Pittsburgh are found just outside of the city borders. The map also shows that the city has almost fully transitioned from its steel city past as there are very few primarily WC tracts left. One thing that is quite interesting though within the Pittsburgh map is that there are many lightly shaded CC tracts, indicating that art and other related occupations could have a strong presence within Pittsburgh to a greater extent than many of the other metros that we have looked at.

When looking at the three maps, three very different results are displayed as the cities are quite unlike each other. The only similarity, which may come as a surprise (at least in Austin) is that each metro has about the same number of primarily WC tracts. When looking at education levels, it is easy to see that Austin is highly educated, especially when compared to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The total degree shares for each metro are as follows: Austin 39.13%, Pittsburgh 27.39%, and Cleveland 25.8%. The most educated tracts within Austin, Pittsburgh and Cleveland were found to have degree shares within the 70-80% range. The difference is in the, much larger total number of tracts within this degree share range in found in Austin compared to the two other metros, as Cleveland for example only has 4 tracts with degree shares higher than 50%, which is the lowest number of any metro that we have looked at so far. Pittsburgh though is in between the other two metros as there are a greater number of tracts with very high degree shares than Cleveland. Where Pittsburgh is more like Austin is when looking at the tracts with the lowest degree shares. Unlike many cities that we have looked at, in both Austin and Pittsburgh, the tracts with the lowest degree shares hold shares much higher than that at the bottom of other metros. For example there are only 2 and 3 tracts respectively within Austin and Pittsburgh that have degree shares under 5%, which is quite unique.

While Pittsburgh has made strides within the creative economy and currently seems to be much better situated within the creative and knowledge economy than Cleveland, Pittsburgh is still far off from what we see in Austin. This Insight has displayed that the divide between metros in the U.S. across education and occupation is quite large and that even cities such as Pittsburgh that have made positive strides in better situating themselves in the knowledge economy remain very different from the leaders.

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors — location, place and city-regions — in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.