Educational Attainment and Labor Market Outcomes

Increasing the proportion of the population with a bachelor's degree has been a goal of many municipal administrations and regional economic development organizations, but what happens in the labor markets that are successful at attracting and retaining residents with a college or higher degree? Research by senior community and economic development adviser Stuart Andreason suggests that there are a few potential outcomes.

The paper "Leading, Lagging, and Left Behind: Identifying Metropolitan Leaders and Labor Market Outcomes" explores the trends in bachelor's degree or higher attainment in 283 metropolitan areas from 1990 to 2010 and finds that attainment growth as a proportion of the population is concentrated in just 78 metro areas with above national growth of 7.9 percent. These 78 "leader metropolitan areas" are the focus of the study.

Looking at changes in earnings, unemployment, income inequality, and poverty in 78 "leader metros," Andreason finds that no metropolitan area with above national bachelor's degree attainment growth of 7.9 percentage points experienced improvement on the four metrics. Most areas experienced improvements on from one to three metrics. A small number saw no improvements, even with bachelor's degree or higher attainment growth of above 7.9 percentage points.

These different outcomes are likely related to the varying contexts that drive demand for labor in each of these labor markets. For example, many of the "leader metros" with above 7.9 percentage point growth in bachelor's degree attainment are university centered economies like Charlottesville with the University of Virginia or Columbia with the University of Missouri. Others are economic hubs such as Washington, DC, and San Jose or postindustrial cities like Cleveland and Detroit. The range of places that experienced high bachelor's degree or higher attainment growth suggests that the types of products produced and sold from that area could affect the outcomes.