James Johnson, director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) says that even in a place like Durham, with a relatively high proportion of black college graduates, many of the young people who are reared there are utterly disconnected from the region's economic vitality. Durham enjoys one of the nation's higher share of African-American college graduates (28 percent) both because of its concentration of local universities—including UNC, Duke, and North Carolina Central University, a historically black college—but also because the area's historic reputation as the "black Wall Street" made it attractive to African-American professionals from other regions.
"There has been this black professional class in the city writ large, both in entrepreneurial culture and ensconced in city and local government, a professional class of doctors and lawyers that has a long history here," Johnson says. "But there's enormous segregation in the K-12 system, where the schools that most of the kids of color attend are under-resourced schools, are hyper-segregated, and that's probably gotten worse over time in this city."
The result, he says, is that even local kids who complete high school are often unprepared to finish college—which leaves them unable to pursue the high-tech employment that has blossomed across the region for decades. "Local kids aren't even competing for those jobs," Johnson says, "because when you have the opportunity to recruit talent globally for skills and talent, you don't have to be so concerned about the quality of education locally, in a sense. Kids of color just aren't even a part of the mix today."
Another set of Census data reinforces that conclusion by showing that many of the nation's fast-growth cities are relying more on recruiting talent from elsewhere in the country than on developing their own. The PERE program ran for Next America a separate analysis of Census data for the 20 American cities that have added the most jobs since 2000. That analysis found that in all of those cities, the share of local adults born inside the state with a four-year college degree or more lagged behind the share of college-educated adults from outside the state. For many of those cities, the gaps are enormous.
In Denver, fully half of out-of-state adults in the area hold a college degree, compared to less than one-third of those born in Colorado. In Baltimore, where racial violence flared this month, the gap is even wider: The share of its working age adults born out-of-state with a college degree (53 percent) is fully double the share of its Maryland residents with that much education (26 percent). In Houston, which ranks near the top in job creation, 41 percent of out-of-state adults hold college degrees, compared to just 26 percent of those born in-state. In Charlotte and Atlanta, the gap between out- and in-state degree holders approaches 20 percentage points; in Washington, it nears 30 percentage points (though the D.C. area actually does a better job than most in moving local residents through college completion).