Whether to move after college, and where to move to, are never easy questions. Often, if you’re lucky enough to find a job, it’s not a choice at all. But for those of us who set out to find ourselves, and hopefully a career, in a distant city (probably), it’s a gamble. It’s getting to be a riskier and riskier gamble, too, as evidenced by two fascinating maps we came across.
The New York Times reported fascinating research on metro areas and educational attainment, conducted by the Brookings Institution. The study found that between 1970 and today, the gaps in educational attainment between metro areas has grown considerably. Whereas in 1970, Dayton and San Francisco weren’t all that different, today the differences are vast. In 1970, the average metro population was 12 percent college graduates — New York was right there, average. Washington, D.C. was the most educated city in the nation at that time with 22.4% of the population having at least a bachelor’s degree. Now, 32 percent of the U.S. metro population has a college degree, and the gap between uneducated cities and educated ones has grown considerably: Bakersfield, Calif., the least educated, has just 15 percent college grads while DC boasts nearly 50 percent bachelor’s degree attainment.
Cities that lag on the jobs front cannot attract college grads like cities that do not. San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, Stamford, Raleigh, Minneapolis, Denver and Austin lead the pack by several percentage points each. Stratification of all sorts seems to be the name of the game in the U.S. these days: is there any measurable metric of success that isn’t distributed more unequally now than it was 40 years ago?
This would seem to make your choice of metro area easy, right? Go where the grads and the jobs are. You don’t need The New York Times to tell you to avoid Dayton and Bakersfield, and instead seek opportunities in Raleigh or the Twin Cities or the Bay Area — that’s obvious.
But the second map, which we spotted over at The Billfold, spells trouble for this strategy. The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently put out a map showing, state-by-state, how many hours a week a minimum wage earner would have to work to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom apartment. It isn’t pretty. There isn’t a state in the union where you can put in 40 hours a week at $7.25 — the federal minimum, though some states are higher — and afford to house your family. West Virginia comes closest, at 63 hours a week. Washington, D.C., that most educated of metros, leads the pack with 140 hours. 140 hours! You would need to work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, in order to pull that off.
And yet Washington, D.C. just so happens to house the legislature that has not raised the federal minimum wage since 2007 — at which point it was $5.15! At $5.15 an hour, you would need to work 197 hours a week for an apartment (going off of NLIHC’s numbers), which would require that weeks be eight days long.
California, New York and Massachusetts all place high on the scale as well.
So, some cities are dead-ends for employment befitting a college grad, and some are perfect for it. Unfortunately, those that offer employment opportunities are terrifyingly expensive for the precise fact that they offer employment opportunities. Also, these cities are a bit precious about their own history, and therefore averse to allowing for tall, out-of-scale development. Matthew Yglesias, author of The Rent is Too Damn High, argues in his book that, were zoning laws in these cities relaxed to allow for more development, housing would be cheaper and these cities would thrive still more. Housing is a product, and it is hopelessly scarce in the cites where it is most in demand; unshackling the housing supply from its faux-scarcity in these cities would bring down its value, making housing more affordable.
That, or municipalities can raise local minimum wages to bring them in check with reality. San Francisco, for instance, has. Of course, that hasn’t made housing any cheaper in the city, exactly.
Your policy professionals haven’t done well by you, young graduates. Don’t forget that, on top of paying exorbitant rents to live in the ghettos of yesteryear, you’ll be paying down those student loans. It’s not pretty, but at least we made a handy guide to the cheapest, best neighborhoods in the astonishingly expensive cities we must call home.
Otherwise, Madison, Wis. and Raleigh, N.C., are two of your best buys if you’re looking for low cost of living and lots of jobs. Take note, young people with dreams of a crappy Brooklyn apartment!