Unemployment Geography

Interesting illustration from LaToya Egwuekwe

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Hip Cities

Years ago, I visited Portland, Oregon, for business. Learned Mt. Hood was about an hour away — and it was March — I packed my ski boots. Hopped into my rental car after my business was done and drove out to Timberline Lodge.  Although it was a solitary experience, I did enjoy myself.It was the only time I was ever able to combine skiing with business.

I liked Portland, too.  Thought it might be a really good city to live in some day. Apparently, thousands of others share my opinion, resulting in Portland’s higher-than-average unemployment rate. The story, via The Wall Street Journal:

This drizzly city along the Willamette River has for years been among the most popular urban magnets for college graduates looking to start their careers in a small city of like-minded folks. Now the jobs are drying up, but the people are still coming. The influx of new residents is part of the reason the unemployment rate in the Portland metropolitan area has more than doubled to 11.8% over the past year, and is now above the national average of 8.9%.

More photos and interactive graphics Some new arrivals are burning through their savings as they hunt for jobs that no longer exist. Some are returning home. Others are settling for low-paying jobs they are overqualified for.

With his search for a journalism job coming up short, Mr. Singer has spent thousands in savings, and is now earning $12 an hour at a temporary job scanning loan documents, a task he says is so mind-numbing he listens to his iPod all day. “Careerwise, it’s definitely not what I’d like to be doing,” says Mr. Singer.

The worst recession in a generation is disrupting migration patterns and overturning lives across the country. Yet, cities like Portland, along with Austin, Texas, Seattle and others, continue to be draws for the young, educated workers that communities and employers covet. What these cities share is a hard-to-quantify blend of climate, natural beauty, universities and — more than anything else — a reputation as a cool place to live. For now, an excess of young workers is adding to the ranks of the unemployed. But holding on to these people through the downturn will help cities turn around once the economy recovers.

Portland has attracted college-educated, single people between the ages of 25 and 39 at a higher rate than most other cities in the country. Between 1995 and 2000, the city added 268 people in that demographic group for every 1,000 of the same group living there in 1995, according to the Census Bureau. Only four other metropolitan areas had a higher ratio. The author of the Census report on these “youth magnet” cities, Rachel Franklin, now deputy director the Association of American Geographers, says the Portland area’s critical mass of young professionals means it has a “sustained attractiveness” for other young people looking for a place to settle down.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, it won’t be long before Trenton, Newark and Camden “get hip.” My little town my not be hip, but it’s still cool.