Palo Alto, where more than three-quarters of working residents belong to the creative class. Flickr/Oleg.

In Cupertino, Palo Alto, and McLean, Virginia, more than three-quarters of the workforce belongs to the creative class.

When I wrote Rise of the Creative Class, I rated and ranked America’s metro areas on the share of the workforce that does creative class work. The creative class is made up of more than 40 million workers—a third of the U.S. workforce—and its ranks are composed of high-paid knowledge workers in fields like science and tech; arts, culture, media and entertainment; business and management; and healthcare and education. Now, with help from my Martin Prosperity Institute team, I’m taking a closer look at the creative class populations in U.S. cities, not just metros, using Census data.

The creative class makes up roughly 40 to 45 percent of the population in leading metros like Silicon Valley’s San Jose, Washington, D.C., and Boston, and in college towns and metros like Durham, Ithaca, and Boulder. But the creative class makes up more than 60 to 75 percent of the workforce in leading cities. Indeed, the creative class makes up an average of 42 percent of the workforce in the top quarter of U.S. cities.

The table below lists the top 20 creative class cities across the U.S.

Top 20 U.S. Creative Class Cities

Rank City Creative Class
Share of
the Workforce
1 Cupertino, CA 76.9%
2 Palo Alto, CA 76.4%
3 McLean, VA 75.5%
4 Bethesda, MD 75.1%
5 Brookline, MA 74.2%
6 Potomac, MD 73.4%
7 Cambridge, MA 67.9%
8 Newton, MA 67.5%
9 Arlington, VA 66.7%
10 North Bethesda, MD 66.5%
11 Hoboken, NJ 65.1%
12 Redmond, WA 64.9%
13 Dublin, OH 64.7%
14 Santa Monica, CA 64.2%
15 Sammamish, WA 64.1%
16 Reston, VA 63.6%
17 Ellicott City, MD 63.3%
18 Berkeley, CA 62.4%
19 Mountain View, CA 61.4%
20 Arlington, MA 61.1%

Much has been made of the arts orientation of the creative class, but this list is clearly dominated by some of the nation’s leading tech hubs. Topping the list is Cupertino, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley and home to Apple, where the creative class makes up a whopping 76.9 percent of the population. It’s followed by Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, with 76.4 percent. All in all, four cities in the Bay Area make the top 20, with the addition of Berkeley (62.4 percent) and Mountain View (61.4 percent).

Next in line are two suburbs of Washington, D.C.: McLean, Virginia, with 75.5 percent, and Bethesda, Maryland, with 75.1 percent. The D.C. area has a whopping seven cities in the top 20: These two plus Arlington and Reston, Virginia, as well as Potomac, North Bethesda and Ellicott City, Maryland.

Brookline, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, is fifth. Three other Boston-area cities make the top 20: Cambridge is seventh, Newton is eighth, and Arlington is 20th.

The top 20 includes two Seattle suburbs, Redmond, home to Microsoft, and nearby Sammamish. Santa Monica, Hoboken, New Jersey (across the river from Manhattan), and Dublin, an upscale suburb of Columbus, Ohio, round out the list of top cities for the creative class.

The table below lists the cities with the smallest shares of creative class workers. In these cities, the creative class share ranges from 10 percent to just below 17 percent.

Bottom 20 U.S. Creative Class Cities

Rank City Creative Class
Share of
the Workforce
1 Florence-Graham, CA 10.0%
2 Huntington Park, CA 10.8%
3 Lynwood, CA 10.9%
4 Cicero, IL 12.1%
5 Reading, PA 12.5%
6 East Los Angeles, CA 13.0%
7 Camden, NJ 13.8%
8 Watsonville, CA 14.1%
9 South Gate, CA 14.6%
10 Compton, CA 14.9%
11 Brentwood, NY 15.1%
12 Paterson, NJ 15.4%
13 Paramount, CA 15.5%
14 Sunrise Manor, NV 15.8%
15 Union City, NJ 15.9%
16 Santa Ana, CA 16.0%
17 Trenton, NJ 16.5%
18 Rialto, CA 16.6%
19 Pontiac, MI 16.8%
20 Elizabeth, NJ 16.8%

California has a strong presence on this list as well—it's home to half of the 20 U.S. cities with the smallest creative class shares. New York and New Jersey are home to another six cities in the bottom 20—Camden, Paterson, Union City, Trenton and Elizabeth in New Jersey, and Brentwood on Long Island. Other cities among the bottom 20 include include Rustbelt locations like Pontiac, Michigan; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Cicero, Illinois.

Notably, with the exception of Sunrise Manor, Nevada, most of these cities are either agricultural centers or hard-hit former industrial areas.

The uneven distribution of the creative class is yet another indicator of the increasingly spiky, unequal and uneven nature of America’s economic landscape. But this is not another story of thriving bi-coastal centers versus de-industrializing Rustbelt and sprawling Sunbelt cities of sand and sprawl. Instead, the largest divides can be seen on the coasts, in California and the New York-New Jersey corridor. In these regions, cities with ultra-high and ultra-low shares of the creative class exist side-by-side. It appears that the growing economic gap between regions is less profound than the the divide between have and have-not places in some of America’s most robust economic centers.

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