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Census: ‘Brain Gains’ for High-Tech Cities

WASHINGTON – Many college graduates are passing up industrial centers and former hotspots in the Southwest, which have been hit hard by the recession, in favor of life in urban, high-tech meccas. Their moves are fueling a resurgence of brainiacs in parts of California, North Carolina and Texas.

Census data released Tuesday offer the first detailed look at U.S. migration data, broken down by education and income, since the recession began in late 2007.

The data covering 2006-2008 show that Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., Charlotte and Raleigh, both in North Carolina, and Seattle saw large jumps in residents with at least a college degree. Each offers the promise of specialized tech jobs and hip lifestyles.

San Francisco, with its burgeoning biotech industry, saw significant increases in residents with advanced-level graduate degrees. Houston, home to NASA and several medical centers, saw gains in more educated residents but also those with only a high school diploma.

In contrast, metropolitan areas with high rates of foreclosures, less tech-based economies or increasing unemployment saw declines or slower rates of growth in residents with a college degree or higher. They included Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland.

“During this economic downturn, young, educated professionals are heading for the high-tech ‘cool’ metros rather than the fast growing upstarts of the mid-decade,” said Dr. William Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution, who analyzed the data. “The investment in knowledge industries and young professional amenities in places like Austin, Raleigh and Seattle is now paying off.”

The United States is becoming increasingly educated. More than one in four U.S. residents now has a college degree, with many recent graduates looking for jobs in a depressed economy. States and cities are also striving to boost their tax bases and stay competitive by attracting highly educated and higher income residents.

According to the data, cities with higher levels of education did not always translate to the highest incomes.

Austin, Seattle and Charlotte all saw large gains in the number of residents who earned an income of $65,000 a year or more. But they were outpaced by places such as Bakersfield, Calif., and Sun Belt regions such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, which had larger jumps in richer residents.

Frey attributed the differences to younger college graduates in the high-tech areas who are moving up the career ladder and have not yet reached their peak levels of income.

The data comes from the American Community Survey. The information was collected
over three years, from 2006 through 2008, providing a snapshot of every U.S. community
with at least 20,000 residents.

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