Pittsburgh's new workers have left behind the region's industrial psyche
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The ongoing post-industrial transition of the Pittsburgh regional economy has reached an important milestone, reflecting a development that will shape the region and its workforce in the coming years -- younger workers in the Pittsburgh region are now among the most highly educated in the nation.
Recent data show a surprising new distinction among the youngest generation of Pittsburgh's workforce -- nearly half, or 48.1 percent, of our region's 25- to 34-year-old employees have at least a bachelor's degree. The national average is 34.7 percent.
Using data from the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau and comparing educational attainment for Pittsburgh to the top 40 metro areas shows that Pittsburgh workers aged 25 to 34 fall just behind Boston; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Austin, respectively.
Pittsburgh's distinction is even greater at the highest level of educational attainment. In the percentage of people aged 25 to 34 with a graduate or professional degree, Pittsburgh ranks at the top of the list, matching Washington, D.C., with 21.5 percent.
The Pittsburgh region has seen a strong and steady increase in educational attainment and that of the youngest workers contrasts sharply with that of older generations. The educational attainment of Pittsburgh workers up to age 55 exceeds the national average. After age 55, workers in the Pittsburgh region have decidedly lower levels than the U.S. average; the formally educated comprise only 24.4 percent of those aged 65 and older, a full 10 percentage points below the national average.
The region's colleges and universities are a major factor in this dramatic shift in the local labor force, not just because of their number but also because of their prominence in various fields of endeavor. They provide employment and career opportunities in the expanding fields of health care, financial services, advanced manufacturing and research and technology, all of which recruit and retain ever more educated workers.
Other factors play a role. Despite having an estimated 100,000 unemployed workers today, the region has an unemployment rate that falls below the national average, making it more attractive than some other parts of the country. It also has been widely reported that our financial and real estate markets have withstood the recession better than most.
In addition, while the region has attracted relatively few international immigrants in recent decades compared to other metro regions, those who have come here have mostly been highly educated professionals recruited to their positions.
We think the most important factor, though, is that Pittsburghers have moved beyond their once-embedded industrial-town psyche. The tradition of working in the mill ended when the mills closed. Since then, subsequent generations of Pittsburghers have been urged to get an education. The shift has taken decades, but our youngest have come of age with an emphasis on higher education few Pittsburghers had in the past.
Finally, the educational attainment of Pittsburgh's youngest workers says something important about the region's ability to attract and retain the most accomplished of workers. Many young and educated people are staying here and many are moving here. That alone says more than just about anything else about the changes going on in Pittsburgh.
First Published May 2, 2010 12:00 am