NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Census Bureau Finds Clusters Of College Grads And High School Dropouts

October 28, 2002

According to the Census Bureau figures released in June, one-quarter of Americans now have college degrees -- an all-time high. During the 1990s, the number of people with a sheepskin increased by well over a third, while high school dropouts declined. But the bounty of the educated is not evenly distributed across the country.

States and local communities wishing to improve their tax bases attempt to lure the best and brightest. At the same time, new immigrants with below-average education are locating in gateway regions, where affluence has driven demand for low-skill services - restaurant workers, office cleaners and the like. This creates the potential for local "barbell economies," with bulges at both ends of the education scale.

  • In the District of Columbia, nearly four out of 10 residents have college degrees, while one in three are so blessed in Massachusetts -- and the comparable number in West Virginia is just one in seven.
  • In Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana, more than one out of four adults did not finish high school, compared to about one in eight in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Utah.
  • Latino border metros, however, show large concentrations of dropouts -- McAllen, Laredo, Brownsville and El Paso, not to mention Los Angeles, and Miami.

The nation as a whole showed a decline in high-school dropouts, but seven western states plus Texas bucked the trend. The common thread: significant increases in Latino populations. Several states with dropout gains were also states with big gains in college graduates. The resulting barbell effect is even more pronounced in Las Vegas, Phoenix and other metros -- a selective migration pattern long evident in the more mature gateway area of Los Angeles, which is a magnet to low-skilled service workers from Latin America.

Source: William H. Frey, "Brains and Brawn," Charticle, Milken Institute Review, Third Quarter, 2002.


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