Sunday, September 18, 2016

Still a magnet for educated immigrants

Your Wonk Quotient is high if you know that last week the Census Bureau released 2015 data from the American Community Survey (ACS).   More may have noticed various media stories looking to pull some interesting factoid from the latest data.  The problem is that the ACS has a panoply of data and finding one interesting datapoint to comment on is hard.  There is a bigger problem that the ACS survey data, especially the 1-year estimates data just released, has sampling error and related issues that really make most media stories an exercise in misoverinterpretation at best. You really want to exercise extreme caution when commenting on something in the 1-year ACS data if the latest data looks to be a significant change from the past.

That being said, I thought it safer to look at what hasn't changed in the ACS data for Pittsburgh. I thought I would start with a look at immigration for Pittsburgh. Not just immigration in general, but the characteristics of the immigrants who currently reside in Pittsburgh. This came to mind since I see yet another immigration attraction effort has started in Pittsburgh, the last in a long long line of similar efforts.  The new programs are always written about as if they are a new thing no matter how much immigration here has been written about worldwide.

Anyways, here is a true example of Pittsburgh exceptionalism.  Yes, immigration here is pretty low, usually measured as low as you would expect among large metro areas.  However it has also been true that among the immigrants who do reside in Pittsburgh, they are clearly the most educated cohort of immigrants among large metro areas in the US. Again, nothing new and something I have been pointing out for years. Still, the latest ACS data is interesting in that it confirms that factoid is still true, but if anything is stronger than ever.

Here are some rankings of how the educational attainment of the foreign born populations compare across the 40 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas.  Here is what it looks like for the percentage with a bachelor's degree or higher.



I'd point out one important caveat here which gets to definitions.  Strictly speaking the ACS is measuring the characteristics of residents here.  The definition of 'foreign born' is just that. What you will see by many, and myself on occasion is referring to the same group as immigrants which isn't actually correct.  Immigrants are those who have moved permanently to the United States.  Foreign born residents here can include those not intending to stay in the US, such as many foreign students currently enrolled, or on non-permanent visas... although many of those may be intending to convert their visa status eventually.  So an important distinction, though I think the general pattern would hold if it was possible to strictly measure immigrants.

Still, not only is Pittsburgh out in front with over 56% of immigrants here now holding a bachelor's degree or higher.  Unsurprisingly, San Jose, CA, is #2 but well behind Pittsburgh at 50%.  But here is another figure comparing the percentages with a graduate degree.


So Pittsburgh is again out in front, but by an ever larger margin compared to #2.  Over 34% of the foreign-born population in Pittsburgh have a graduate degree of some kind.  #2 again is San Jose, but back at 26%. So when you read about efforts to attract and retain immigrants in Pittsburgh, remember we do pretty well at attracting immigrants with advanced professional skills. We are so far ahead of most anywhere else, you have to ask how much higher is even possible no matter the effort put in. What Pittsburgh lacks almost entirely are immigrants with less than a college degree, or even less than a high school degree. How and why those flows are not coming to Pittsburgh is the issue.

I will put the data that made the tables here, in a 'Footnotes' section on my web page. 

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