Posted by: Josh Lehner | December 11, 2014

Education, Migration and the Service Class

Beyond the commonly heard refrain that the Great Recession has ushered in a new, larger educated service class, which turns out to be largely untrue, another common worry is that of the type of migrant (or degree field, like STEM, humanities, etc) that cities attract. Is your regional economy attracting enough of the “good” degrees?

Well, what constitutes “good” is certainly open to interpretation. However, below I compare educational attainment, degree field and migration across the largest MSAs in the country. I use the IPUMS-USA 2013 ACS micro data. Due to data limitations, I use only in-migration (and rates) and not net migration. This is unfortunately but also something I cannot readily fix at the moment and the two measure are highly correlated in most cases. Additionally this is just one snapshot in time.

The first graph shows there is a positive relationship between local educational attainment and in-migration rates of college graduates. What’s interesting here from a Portland perspective is that PDX’s migration rates are equal to cities with much higher educational attainment. Overall Portland is pretty average in terms of educational attainment, relative to other big cities, however our migration trends are very strong.

EducMig2013The second graph divides the college graduates into two camps: those with a Business, STEM or Health degree and those that have a degree in a different field. This is a rough cut to separate degrees and while not perfect, does provide a reasonable starting point. I think. Here, Portland has an above average concentration of All Other degree and a below average concentration in Business/STEM/Health degrees. This result is very similar to previous work done by EcoNorthwest for the Portland Business Alliance. Note: You add together the x and y-axis values to get total bachelor’s or higher share of population.

DegreeType2013Third, combining these two calculations shows in-migration rates by broad degree group across the largest metros in the country. Here is easy to see which cities have high (or low) migration rates. Portland is significantly above average for both broad degree groups (5th highest in-migration rate overall). Although it is weighted more towards the All Other. For those that are worried about degree field, the good news is that while Portland is currently below average for educational attainment in Business/STEM/Health degrees, the growth and migration differential is such that ground is being gained on the other large metros.

MigDegree2013Apologies for the death by scatter plot.

This post initially included some additional state level work on jobs requiring a degree vs those that do not. Our office will continue to work on this topic and republish it, along with a better, more clear explanation of what our findings really show.


  1. […] is a positive development. It brings both skilled, young households who will set down roots (no, they are not all degree holding baristas) and a strong influx of retirees with a lifetime of experience and some wealth. These are good […]

  2. […] The scatter plot below shows migration rates across all states for 2014 but keeping the distinction between STEM+ degrees and all other fields of study. The equal value line is show in blue, indicating the migration rate among each degree grouping is the same. A state like Oregon sees nearly identical migration rates for all degree types, albeit skewing slightly more toward the scientific, technical and medical fields. However, there are a handful of state — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Texas and Virginia — that see strong STEM+ gains but considerably slower gains in all other degrees, or even small losses. (Previously our office did a similar analysis for the largest MSAs.) […]

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