Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

A Few Studies

I wanted to share a quick look at a few studies I came across recently.

The first is a look at educational attainment trends by Stephan Whittaker at the Cleveland Fed. It’s specific to that Fed district, but does some interesting slicing of the data by looking at the composition of changes of degrees in the working age population by migrant, native, etc. Here’s a sample chart to whet your appetite:

The next two fall under the heading of “The Future of Work” and are by Egon Terplan at SPUR in San Francisco. One of them is called The Future of Downtown and looks at the future of San Francisco’s CBD. I didn’t write much about SF when I did my recent blog post on big city CBD’s, so this makes a great read to fill in the blanks. Terplan starts up with a set of facts that aren’t all positive, and makes a series of policy recommendations to help reboot the fortunes of central San Francisco as an employment center. A companion piece looks at slowing job sprawl in Northern California. I don’t think these are new, but they were new to me.

The last two are from Brookings and they make me sad. That’s not because they are wrong or anything, but because these are items we should largely already get by now. You would think things like the fact that metro areas are the engine of economic growth these days would almost rate as truisms. Alas, not in America’s state houses.

One study is called Metropolitan Areas and the Next Economy. This is basically a state by state analysis looking at the contribution of metro areas, particularly the top 100 metro areas nationally, to the overall state economy. For example, we see that Indianapolis metro contains 27% of the state’s population, but accounts for nearly 35% of the working age population with college degrees and over 37% of the state’s total employment in science and engineering.

The other is by Robert Puentes and looks at transportation policy. This one is also a restatement of how we are broke, and how even where we spend money, we don’t spend it well, often favoring rural areas for political reasons.

The intersection of these two studies shows part of the problem we face in restarting economic growth in America. Given the metro areas account for a disproportionate share of economic growth and prosperity, it actually makes sense that they are net contributors of resources to the state level. But when these states end up starving metros of key infrastructure investment funds in order to build boondoggles, it just ends up killing the golden goose – or at least creating a big economic drag on the state.

I think major highway projects are a major component of rural revitalization plans so frequently because policy makers have little else on offer. Rather than offering the unpleasant truth about what is facing rural communities, and then looking for real and creative ways to address them – such as is being done over at Reimagine Rural – it’s easy to just promise that a new highway will solve everyone’s problem by magically beaming in jobs. It’s a shame.

Isn’t it about time America figured it out on some of these points?

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy, Transportation

3 Responses to “A Few Studies”

  1. Andy says:

    I would amend your question to “Isn’t it time Republicans figured out these points?” A lot of these state legislatures, as well as the U.S. House, are in Republican hands — rural or exurban Republican hands — while metro areas are more likely to be represented by Democrats. Just sayin.’

  2. George Mattei says:


    I think it’s probably too late to figure it out. It’s been figured out for us. The Invisible Hand is quite adept at restoring balance to economic systems, and it certainly seems to be imposing it on us. I don’t see the funds available for many new highways in the future.

  3. John Morris says:


    You are assuming a rationality that isn’t there. There are no funds now to start many of these new projects and yet we are seeing them pop up anyway, even as older infrastructure falls apart.

    The only thing that explains this is Public Choice Theory.

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