Leading, Lagging, and Left Behind: Identifying Metropolitan Leaders and Labor Market Outcomes

Stuart Andreason
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Community and Economic Development Department
Discussion Paper 2015-4
October 2015

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From 1990 to 2010, the United States underwent significant changes in the makeup of the population and its educational attainment. During the period, bachelor's degree or higher attainment proportions rose significantly—7.9 percentage points—from 20.3 percent in 1990 to 28.2 percent in 2010. This growth happened unevenly, though. Of 283 metropolitan areas, only 78 were above the 7.9 percentage point increase, suggesting much more concentrated growth than would be expected if growth were experienced evenly. This paper documents the concentration of growth and examines four labor market outcomes in the 78 "leader metros." Unexpectedly, labor market outcomes are not even or common across these metros, suggesting that growth in the proportion of the population holding a BA or higher degree will have different effects depending on local conditions. It also suggests that increasing BA+ attainment at the population level is not a solution to all labor market challenges equally. The analysis suggests that considering local products and their related demands for labor are important steps in developing human capital–based economic development strategies.

JEL Classification: J10, O21, R11

Key words: educational attainment, labor markets, inequality, talent attraction and retention, metropolitan areas


The author would like to acknowledge Barbara Robles, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Karen Leone de Nie, assistant vice president of community and economic development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Laura Wolf-Powers, research fellow at CUNY Graduate Center; Ned Hill, professor of public policy and economic development at Ohio State University; and Genie Birch, professor of urban studies and education at the University of Pennsylvania for their thoughtful guidance and suggestions on this research. The views expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System.

Comments to the authors are welcome at Stuart.Andreason@atl.frb.org.