Education and economic recovery: Charlotte USA

In spite of the higher levels of unemployment Charlotte has experienced in this downturn, its relatively educated workforce appears to be a long-term strength – but is it? How does Charlotte compare to other metros? The maps below allow you to explore education and employment among the largest U.S. metro regions. Select the buttons above the map to change the map display. Scroll down to see analysis and more maps.

Metro areas across the country are experiencing different rates of recovery in employment since the “great recession.” The weakest employment recovery of any downturn since World War II has left a large number of cities, including Charlotte, struggling with high unemployment years after the recession officially ended. As the recovery continues to limp along, what underlying factors will be most important to cities trying to create jobs in new sectors? The availability of educated workers is a critical component.

These issues are the subject of a recent report from the Brookings Institution, Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America. The report examines a broad range of educational and employment data comparing the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the country since the start of the recession. It suggests that the availability of educated workers in individual metros had already begun to affect employment growth before the recession and will play a key role in which regions are economically successful in the recovery.

The maps above start with the share of job openings requiring a bachelor’s degree. Charlotte is 15th of 100 metros in job openings requiring a college degree and falls among a broad swath of East Coast metropolitan areas from Boston to Atlanta with more demand for college-educated workers. Charlotte is comparable to larger cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York in this regard, although Washington, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco have a slightly higher percentage of openings requiring a college degree.

The second map (population with B.A.) shows Charlotte also has a higher share of working age population holding a bachelor’s degree – similar to the larger cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. Metros that have higher percentages of college graduates include Raleigh, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, Washington, San Francisco and Denver.

The next two maps show the jobs requiring a master’s degree and the percentage of the population in each metro that has that education level. In Charlotte, the share of job openings requiring a master’s degree drops to 22nd of 100, similar to Baltimore and Los Angeles. As a percentage of the working population, Washington, San Jose and Bridgeport. Conn., top the list. Charlotte’s share is much lower (ranking just above the middle of the group), in line with Pittsburgh and Dayton.

The unemployment rates among those with bachelor’s degrees or higher and the share of jobs requiring an advanced degree are the final set of maps in this series. While the East Coast, upper Midwest and West Coast have a much higher share of job openings requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher, those same areas also have higher unemployment in general. Charlotte fits into this group with both a higher share of educated job openings and relatively high unemployment among educated workers. In the Washington area, Colorado and eastern Texas, the share of openings requiring college is also relatively high, but unemployment among educated workers is lower.

Winners and losers?

The next set of maps compare metros more directly, ranking them on several measures and introducing the concept of the “education gap.” The education gap is described as the extent to which demand for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher exceeds the supply.

As of May 2012, Charlotte’s high unemployment rate placed it among the lowest ranked 25 metropolitan areas. It has this in common with New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and much of the Southeastern Atlantic coast, California, and the Northeast. The lowest unemployment rates are found in the Washington area, around Boston, the Midwest, the Plains, and Utah led by metropolitan areas such as Madison, Pittsburgh, Washington, Omaha, and Salt Lake City.

In many metros where the unemployment rate is high, new openings were also high (as a percentage of the existing job market), perhaps meaning a stronger recovery (second map). For example, Charlotte is ranked poorly in unemployment but in the highest group for new openings. A similar trend exists for Raleigh and Charleston in the Carolinas, as well as around San Francisco and Los Angeles. In much of the middle of the United States, the opposite is true. Although cities such as Kansas City, Little Rock, Houston and Dallas generally rank well in unemployment, they are in the lower half of the rankings for new job openings.

Charlotte’s advantages in the context of this information are its relatively high share of jobs requiring educated workers and the educated workers themselves. It also does well in its ranking of new job openings as a share of existing jobs. However, when included in the calculations to produce an education gap indicator, these advantages were not enough to increase its education gap ranking significantly.

 In fact, while a high rank in new job openings is good for Charlotte’s general economy, the low education gap ranking suggests that many of these jobs do not require highly educated workers. This may have a negative effect on Charlotte’s economy in the long term, as the Brookings study has found evidence that a smaller education gap improves the economy over the long term and provides more jobs for both educated and uneducated workers alike.

The maps show how the educational differences among metro areas vary, but don’t show the even more striking differences between metros and rural areas. In 2010, 17.8 percent of North Carolinians (ages 25 and older) had completed a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of educational attainment, while another 8.7 percent possessed post-baccalaureate degrees. For the Charlotte MSA, only Mecklenburg, Union and York (S.C.) counties exceeded the N.C. state average in population with a B.A. In Mecklenburg County (home to Charlotte) the working age population with a bachelor’s degree is 26.5 percent, the same as the San Francisco metro area. In Wake County (home to Raleigh), 31.3 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree. So  while metro areas across the country are competing for educated workers to build their recoveries, the real education gap may be in the rural United States.

Read more of the Brookings report:
Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America

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