Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


chicago-loop

Chicago 'L' tracks running above Wabash Avenue in the Loop. (PHOTO: DANIEL SCHWEN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Great Creative Class Migration

• August 22, 2013 • 5:39 PM

Chicago 'L' tracks running above Wabash Avenue in the Loop. (PHOTO: DANIEL SCHWEN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The demand for labor explains a lot of migration patterns. Where the uneducated once moved to staff large industrial centers, now those with the means and a college education flock to feed the Innovation Economy that is rising from their ashes.

At some point after World War II, U.S. migration patterns underwent a cataclysmic shift. Public intellectual Richard Florida calls it the rise of the Creative Class. Florida detailing evidence of the transformation:

According to research by Christopher Berry of the University of Chicago and Edward Glaeser of Harvard, in 1970 human capital was distributed relatively evenly throughout the United States. Nationally, 11 percent of the population over twenty-five years old had a college degree, and that figure ranged between 9 percent and 13 percent in fully half of America’s 318 metropolitan regions. In Washington, D.C., 18 percent of the residents had finished college; in Cleveland, only 4 percent had finished.

Over the past three decades, the percentage of Americans holding a college degree has more than doubled, reaching 27 percent by 2004, but as the maps below show, those gains have not been evenly spread. For instance, about half of the residents of Washington, D.C., and San Francisco now have college degrees—versus 14 percent and 11 percent in Cleveland and Detroit respectively.

Why did college graduates go from relatively evenly distributed to concentrating in a few winning cities? Like Florida, economist Enrico Moretti doesn’t really answer the question so much as he maps the landscape. How America has changed:

This willingness to relocate is a large factor in America’s prosperity, and it always has been. Today, about half of American households change addresses every five years, a number that would be unthinkable in Europe, and a significant number relocate to a different city. About 33% of Americans reside in a state other than the one they were born in, up from 20% in 1900.

This staggering degree of mobility has both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, moving has social and personal costs. Compared with Europeans, Americans tend to live farther from their parents and siblings. They are less attached to their neighborhoods and less familiar with their neighbors. But there are also advantages to mobility: If the economic conditions in a region aren’t particularly good, Americans tend to look for better opportunities somewhere else. By contrast, Italians and other Europeans tend to stay put. They give up career opportunities and higher salaries to be close to their parents and friends.

Among Americans, however, there are large differences, with some groups much more willing to move than others. At the time of the Great Migration in the 1920s—when more than two million African-Americans abandoned the South for industrial centers in other regions—less-educated individuals were more likely to migrate in search of better lives. Today, the opposite is true: The more education a person has, the more mobile he or she is. College graduates have the highest mobility of all, workers with a community-college education are less mobile, high-school graduates are even less and dropouts are the least mobile of all.

Emphasis added. During the first Great Migration, the working class moved to improve. Over the last half of a century, the Creative Class moves to improve. Moretti better than Florida laments the downsides of that flip in fortune in his book, The New Geography of Jobs. Today’s economic era of innovation is radically different from the two previous ones, agriculture and manufacturing. Industry’s need for bodies gives way to a demand for brains.

The demand for labor explains a lot of migration patterns. World War I caused a shortage of workers in the industrial North, the driving force behind the Great Migration to Chicago. A recent story at Major League Baseball (that’s not a typo) explains:

Many northern industrial companies sent recruiters to the South in search of labor to replenish their war-depleted ranks. For a time, even the federal government tried to entice Southern blacks to move to higher geographic latitudes.

“Blacks were persuaded [to move north] by government agents from the Department of Labor for a very short period [of time] because Southern whites needed blacks in the South to work for virtually nothing,” Reed explained. “[The white Southerners] pressured the federal government to stop the official government sanction that had blacks coming north.

“But then the companies that needed workers — the big meat-packing companies and some of the steel companies — they’d send agents to the South to induce workers to come north. And sometimes they had [train] tickets,” Reed added.

The rush was on. Millions, most with little education, relocated. For the lower classes, this was their shot at upward mobility. After World War II, those opportunities would dry up.

The transformation from an industrial economy to something else (i.e. Innovation Economy) occurred after World War II. However, not every city jumped into the future. Journalist Scott Martelle, author of Detroit: A Biography, contends that the business leadership failed to diversify the regional economy:

Just after World War II when the auto industry was retooling from war footing from making tank and armaments back to making motor vehicles, they really had a chance then to change the industrial fabric of Detroit. So they missed a crucial opportunity then.

In his book, Martelle notes the rise of the Pentagon as an economic engine. The war machine in a time of peace demanded brains, not brawn. The country needed more engineers, not Rosie the Riveter.

Just as mechanization had forced many off of the family farm and into the city, the number of manufacturing jobs plummeted while output soared. Where could an unemployed automobile assembly line worker move to find work? The pull elsewhere evaporated. Many stayed put, stuck in poverty. Those who had means and a college education, left. Chicago once again sucked up the wayward talent, the Great Creative Class migration.

Vexing Enrico Moretti are the numbers required to run the Innovation Economy. The demand for the Creative Class in the Chicago Loop isn’t anything akin to the mass of humanity needed to staff a meat-packing plant or steel mill. Moretti hails the multiplier effects that innovation jobs generate. But one must move to Chicago in order to benefit from the shortage of restaurant workers feeding the conspicuous consumption of the Creative Class. The table scraps only fall so far from the source.

Whoever moves, wins. Immigrants, who used to be doctors in the home country, will wash the dishes or line cook. Liberal arts majors will serve up lunch martinis to the latest round of twentysomething techies. The Creative Class will cater to the Creative Class in the gated city, protected from the anarchy in the suburbs.

Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.