Local labor force well-educated

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Pittsburgh's under-45 labor force remains one of the most educated in the country, as measured by the percentage of younger workers who have attained a bachelor's degree or higher, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research.

Within the Pittsburgh region, 48.5 percent of the labor force between the ages of 25 and 34 has earned at least a bachelor's degree; nationally, the figure is 34.7 percent, according to the report, first appearing in Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly, a publication of the research center. Among the portion of Pittsburgh's work force between 35 and 44, 39.6 percent of them are college graduates, compared to 34.6 percent nationally.

That's in contrast to the older portion of the regional work force -- workers 55 or older are less likely to be college-educated than members of the same cohort nationally, partly because members of that age group who held a college degree left when the steel industry tumbled, and partly because Pittsburgh's job market wasn't as degree-dependent three decades ago as it is today.

"Pittsburgh 30 years ago had a very different demand for workers," said Chris Briem, an economist with Pitt's research center. Over a generation, that job market, and thus the work force, has been overhauled.

In the 25-34 segment, Pittsburgh trails only Boston; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Austin, Texas, in terms of the labor force's share of college educated. That's evidence, said Mr. Briem, that the city's college-educated aren't leaving in droves, despite the persistent Rust Belt, "brain drain" rhetoric.

"We gnash over young people leaving, young graduates leaving. The numbers are clearly showing that large numbers are staying here, have found jobs or are looking for work," he said.

Even more striking, he said, was Pittsburgh's share of postgraduate degrees. In the 25-34 age group, 21.5 percent of the Pittsburgh-area work force has a master's degree or higher, tops on the list and tied with Washington, D.C. And Pittsburgh's young work force also is more likely to have a high school diploma -- among workers 25 to 34, only 2.2 percent don't have a high school diploma. Compare that to Houston, where 19.5 percent of the 25-34 cohort didn't graduate from high school.

The numbers have a flip side, though -- one of the reasons our 45-and-under work force is so educated is because we lack the immigrant underclass found in larger cities. Those immigrants can drag down a city's educational attainment numbers, but fuel growth -- Las Vegas; Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles; Miami; Phoenix; Dallas; and Tampa, Fla., all fall on the low side of the rankings compiled by the urban research center. None of those cities breaks the 40 percent threshold when it comes to the share of 25- to 34-year-old workers with a college degree.

On the other hand, of the immigrants that Pittsburgh does attract, most of them, too, are highly educated. About 60 percent of foreigners who arrive here already have a college degree.

Could it be that Pittsburgh is overeducated, with a work force that doesn't properly dovetail with the energy, service and health care jobs being created here?

"Trying to predict future work force demands is difficult," Mr. Briem said, but a "formal education should give you an advantage" as job markets change and new industries require adaptable skill sets.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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