Burying the Lead?

To a striking degree, conventional wisdom holds that the future belongs to large, agglomerating cities with “thick labor markets” that support high-tech innovation. It is an article of faith advanced by influential urban economists Richard Florida and Edward Glaeser, who call for nurturing the “megaregions” that have emerged victorious from post-1970s global market restructuring. Labor economist Enrico Moretti has taken the argument to almost comical extremes. “Three Americas” are taking shape along urban-geographical lines, he argues, that are (supposedly) fast replacing older forms of inequality based on class and race: “Brain Hubs” that attract the college-educated,  deteriorating former manufacturing centers, and cities that could go either way—toward brain hubbery or into oblivion.

Into this climate of settled opinion comes a report by Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists Jaison R. Abel and Richard Dietz, called “Do Big Cities Help College Graduates Find Better Jobs?” The report summary opens with their answer: “In particular, we show that looking for a job in big cities, which have larger and thicker local labor markets…can give workers a better chance to find a job that fits their skills.” No big surprise there. But guess how much difference city size makes? Apparently, not very. For example, the authors write toward the end of their summary, “[C]ollege degree matching is about 6 percent more likely in a place like New York City than in a place like Syracuse, New York.”

Only 6 percent! Given the reigning consensus on such matters (not to mention the comparative disadvantage of New York’s soaring housing costs), I’m pretty sure that journalists would call this “burying the lead.”
                    – Catherine Tumber

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