The U.S. Cities Where Creative Class Workers Are Most Segregated From Everyone Else

Those who work in different types of jobs tend to live apart in places like L.A., San Francisco and Texas's largest metros.

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This is the final post in a five-part series on economic segregation in U.S. metros.

The rise of the knowledge economy over the past several decades has forever changed the nature of work and, by extension, the class structure of advanced cities and societies. Living standards among the working class has declined sharply as the economy has deindustrialized. Across the United States, work itself has split into two major categories and classes: high-skill, high-pay creative work, involving new ideas and new technology; and low-skill, low-pay service work. As workers’ incomes and expectations have diverged, so too have their residential choices. Middle-class neighborhoods, like middle-class paychecks, are increasingly hard to find.

The creative class makes up about a third of the U.S. workforce. Its 41 million members -- who include knowledge workers in science, technology, innovation and engineering; business, healthcare and legal professionals; and arts, music, design, media and entertainment -- earned more than $70,000 per year on average in 2010, accounting for roughly half of all U.S. wages. Creative class workers earned more than double the $30,000 average that America’s nearly 60 million routine service workers did, and twice the $34,000 that the 26 million members of the blue-collar working class earned on average.

My own research has charted the rise and clustering of this class across America’s economic landscape. Today, I am taking a closer look within these regions, exploring how segregated they are within cities and metros. In which metros are the creative class the most segregated from the rest of the population?

To get at this, my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleague Charlotta Mellander calculated the geographic segregation of the creative class across the more than 70,000 Census tracts that make up America’s 350-plus U.S. metros. She used an index of dissimilarity, developed by sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, that compares the spatial distribution of a selected group of people with all others in that location (the index ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 reflects no segregation and 1 reflects complete segregation). The MPI’s Zara Matheson mapped the data.

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The map below shows the extent to which the creative class is segregated across U.S. metros. Dark blue reflects metros where the creative class is most segregated and light blue where it is highly segregated; green depicts metros where the creative class is moderately segregated; and yellow shows metros where the creative class is more mixed in with and integrated with other segments of the population.

The highest levels of creative class segregation are found in the major metros of the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, in south Florida, Texas, and Chicago. The creative class is also highly segregated in Northern and Southern California and the state of Washington.

The tables below show the ten large metros (those with one million or more people) where members of the creative class are most and least segregated from other groups.

Large Metros Where the Creative Class Is Most Segregated
Rank Metro Index Rank of all Metros
1 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 0.344 1
2 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 0.327 4
3 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 0.310 5
4 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 0.301 8
5 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 0.300 9
6 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 0.294 10
7 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 0.284 15
8 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 0.284 16
9 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 0.282 17
10 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 0.281 18


The metros where the creative class is most segregated include the nation’s largest metros and many of its leading knowledge-based economic centers. Los Angeles tops the list, followed by Houston, San Jose, San Francisco, New York, Austin, San Antonio, San Diego, and Chicago.  

When we expand the list to include all metros, a number of smaller ones also show substantial levels of segregation. The creative class remains the most segregated in Los Angeles, but Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (which includes Princeton University) takes second place, and Salinas, California is the third most highly segregated metro in the country on this score. Houston falls to fourth overall, while San Jose moves to fifth. Two smaller metros in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Hanford-Corcoran and Bakersfield-Delano, rank sixth and seventh. San Francisco, Dallas and New York drop to eighth, ninth and tenth overall.  The creative class is also highly segregated in college towns like Ann Arbor, Durham-Chapel Hill, Tucson, Gainesville, and College Station. As I wrote a few weeks ago, many of these smaller college towns also experience high levels of segregation of educated residents. This is not overly surprising given that 9 in 10 college grads hold creative class jobs (it’s worth noting however that roughly 4 in 10 members of the creative class did not complete college). The two kinds of segregation are closely correlated with one another (at 89).

Large Metros Where the Creative Class Is Least Segregated
Rank Metro Index Rank of All Metros
51 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 0.200 199
50 Rochester, NY 0.214 162
49 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 0.216 155
48 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 0.221 144
47 Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 0.222 140
46 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 0.222 138
45 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 0.222 136
44 Jacksonville, FL 0.223 134
43 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 0.225 124
42 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 0.226 121

Conversely, the metros where the creative class is least segregated are mainly in the Midwest and Sunbelt. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul is the least segregated large metro on this score, followed by Rochester, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Providence, Milwaukee, and Hartford. Jacksonville, Tampa, and Virginia Beach in the Sunbelt round out the top ten large metros where the creative class is least segregated.

The metros where the creative class is least segregated are all smaller ones. In fact, there are more than 150 smaller and medium-sized metros where the creative class is less segregated than their counterparts in the least segregated large metro. Many of these places, especially in the Northeast and the Midwest, are cities where levels of the creative class are fairly low. Mankato, Minnesota, has the lowest level of creative class segregation in the country, followed by Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Joplin, Missouri; and Rome, Georgia.

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What separates the metros where the creative class is more segregated from those where the creative class is more integrated across a wider range of neighborhoods? What underlying factors are associated with the geographic segregation of the creative class?

To get at this, Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis between our measure of creative class segregation and key economic, social and demographic characteristics of metros. As usual, I note that correlation does not equal causation and points only to associations between variables.

The segregation of the creative class is greater in larger, denser metros. The correlation between creative class segregation and population (.61) is among the highest in Mellander’s analysis. And the segregation of the creative class is closely associated with density (.56) as well. This pattern is similar to what we saw in my previous post on the segregation of highly educated populations, and the reasons are likely similar. Bigger metros tend to attract more knowledge work, and they are also beset by more intensive polarization of work into high- and extremely low-wage jobs. They also tend to have greater levels of gentrification and more exclusive “superstar” neighborhoods where rents and property values are very high. Indeed, the geographic segregation of the creative class is higher in metros where housing eats up a greater share of household incomes (with a correlation of .44). Creative class segregation is also higher in places where a greater share of residents use transit to get to work (.42), another indication of greater density and connectivity.

The creative class is more segregated in wealthier, more affluent regions. The segregation of the creative class is reasonably associated with average wages (.48), but less so with economic output per person (.35) and per capita income (.24). Creative class segregation is higher in metros with larger concentrations of high tech industry (.55).

The segregation of the creative class is connected to the level of income inequality (.45) to some degree and even more so to wage inequality (.58). Mellander found that income inequality explains about 20 percent of the variation in creative class segregation across metros in a simple regression analysis. This likely reflects the same phenomenon noted above. The bigger the gap between the rich and the poor, and the bigger the split between high-paid knowledge and low-wage service work, the greater the segregation of the classes tends to be.

The segregation of the creative class is also bound up with long standing racial cleavages. Creative class segregation is higher in metros where blacks make up a greater share of the population (.22), and even more so with both the share of population that is Latino (.45) and Asian (.37). Creative class segregation is lower in metros where whites make up a greater share of the population (-.51). The creative class is also less segregated in metros with higher percentages of foreign-born residents (.50) and gay residents (.49).

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Creative class workers have the most skills and the most education, and they earn the highest wages. When they are concentrated in their own enclaves, they magnetize resources, amenities, and investments away from less-advantaged neighborhoods. Their involvement in their own children’s schools doesn’t confer advantages to the children of other socioeconomic classes.

Better integration of America’s rich and poor, highly educated and high school dropouts, and creative, service, and working classes are key steps to a better, more cohesive society. But that is not an easy goal to achieve, as neighborhood transformation and gentrification processes drive less affluent residents out of neighborhoods. As I wrote more than a decade ago in the original edition of The Rise of the Creative Class:

Affluent Creative Class people who move into racially, ethnically or economically diverse neighborhoods cannot simply assume that their presence automatically ‘revitalizes’ these places. For many Working Class and Service Class residents, it doesn’t. Instead, all it usually does is raise their rents and perhaps create more low end service jobs for waiters, housecleaners and the like. While the classes maybe living in close physical proximity, they do not intermix in any meaningful way. They might as well be occupying separate universes.

With the accelerated back-to-the city reurbanization of the past decade, it’s become an even greater dilemma.

Top Images: Naypong/Shutterstock.com

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here