Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Not only does the creative class skew white, but there are few U.S. cities where the black creative class appears to be doing as well as their white counterparts.

A host of commentators, myself included, have argued that class is an increasingly important source of division and distress in American social, economic, and political life. But as my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates and the sociologist William Julius Wilson remind us, race overlays class when it comes to the devastating reality of concentrated poverty. While my own research has focused on the new class divisions that lie at the heart of our post-industrial economy, it was my early experience of the Newark riots that spurred my lifelong interest in cities and urbanism. More than a decade ago in The Rise of the Creative Class, I identified a negative connection between race and the creative economy—specifically, the negative association between high-growth, high-tech firms, and the non-white share of the U.S. urban population.

For the past several years, I have been re-examining the role of race in the creative economy. Today, I report the initial results of that research on the racial divide within the already-advantaged creative class. Specifically, I look at the divide between white (or what the Census defines as non-Hispanic white) and black members of the creative class.   

Across America, almost three-quarters (73.8 percent) of all creative class jobs nationwide are held by white (non-Hispanic) workers, compared to about nine percent (8.5 percent) by African Americans. By way of comparison, non-Hispanic whites make up roughly two thirds of the population (64 percent) compared to 12 percent for blacks. While 36 percent of all workers nationally are part of the creative class (as defined below), 41 percent of white workers hold creative class jobs, while just 28 percent of black workers do.

How does this pan out geographically? Are there some metros that do better on this score than others?

To get at this, I worked with Todd Gabe from the University of Maine to identify the racial breakdown of the creative class across the U.S. and its roughly 380 metro areas. Specifically, we looked at the shares of black and white workers ages 16 and older in creative class occupations for the year 2013. This data, which enables us to break down the creative class by race, comes from the U.S. Census categories for management, business, science, and arts occupations and thus differs somewhat from my original definition of the creative class, which is based on more fine-grained occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

My Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis to get at the underlying economic and social characteristics of metros that are associated with the black and white creative class. (As usual, I note that correlation does not equal causation, but merely points to associations between variables). Isabel Ritchie (formerly with MPI) mapped the data.

The Geography of the Black Creative Class

The map above shows the geography of the black creative class, or the share of black workers in creative class occupations, across the U.S. On the map, purple indicates metros where higher percentages of black workers have creative jobs, while light blue reflects metros where black workers are less likely to have jobs in creative occupations. Note the large concentrations of purple in California, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

The table below lists the top and bottom large metros (with more than one million people) with the highest and lowest shares of black workers who have jobs in creative occupations. Washington, D.C., tops the list with 40.9 percent, followed by three California metros: San Jose (39 percent), Los Angeles (35.8 percent), and San Francisco (34.9 percent). Baltimore, Raleigh in the North Carolina Research Triangle, San Antonio, Sacramento, Austin, and San Diego round out the top ten. Half of the top ten are metros in California, and a majority are leading knowledge and tech hubs. New York ranks 19th and Chicago ranks 20th, with roughly 30 percent of black workers in creative occupations. Atlanta, with its large black middle class, ranks 15th with 32.3 percent.

Top Ten Large Metros Percent of Black Workers in Creative Occupations
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 40.9%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 39.0%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 35.8%
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 34.9%
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 34.2%
Raleigh, NC 34.1%
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 34.1%
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA 34.0%
Austin-Round Rock, TX 33.9%
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 33.7%
Bottom Ten Large Metros Percent of Black Workers in Creative Occupations
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 23.3%
New Orleans-Metairie, LA 24.4%
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 24.5%
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 24.6%
Pittsburgh, PA 24.7%
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 24.9%
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 25.1%
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 25.1%
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 25.2%
Rochester, NY 25.5%

The bottom ten is mostly dominated by Sunbelt and Rustbelt metros. While Las Vegas takes last place with 23.3 percent of black workers with jobs in the creative class, followed by New Orleans (24.4 percent), the remaining eight are older industrial or Rustbelt metros: Memphis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Rochester.

When we consider metros of all sizes, a few have larger shares of black workers in creative jobs. These include Lewiston, Idaho; Columbus, Indiana; Wausau, Wisconsin; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Santa Cruz, California, all of which have 50 to 60 percent of black workers in the creative class. Meanwhile, metros like St. George, Utah; Wenatchee, Washington; Casper, Wyoming; Grants Pass, Oregon; and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, have some of the lowest shares, in the range of zero to five percent.

The Geography of the White Creative Class

The next map charts the geography of the white creative class. This time, nearly the entire map is coated in dark purple, meaning that most metros have a white creative class share in excess of 35 percent.  

The table below lists the top and bottom large metros with the highest and lowest shares of white workers with creative class jobs. Again, knowledge and tech hubs like Washington, D.C., San Jose, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, and Raleigh in the North Carolina Research Triangle, as well as the energy hub of Houston and the super-star cities of New York and Los Angeles, make the top ten. Four of the top ten are in California (two in the Bay Area and two in Southern California) and three are along the Bos-Wash Corridor. In most of these leading metros, the white creative class is considerably higher than the overall creative class share of the workforce, indicating how skewed the creative class is to white workers.

Top Ten Large Metros Percent of White Workers in Creative Occupations
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 61.9%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 58.5%
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 57.5%
Austin-Round Rock, TX 52.9%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 52.6%
Raleigh, NC 52.5%
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 49.6%
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 49.2%
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 49.0%
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 49.0%
Bottom Ten Large Metros Percent of White Workers in Creative Occupations
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 34.5%
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 35.7%
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 37.5%
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 38.0 %
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 38.1%
Pittsburgh, PA 38.3%
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 38.6%
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 38.9%
Jacksonville, FL 38.9%
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 39.3%

The bottom ten now include Sunbelt metros like Riverside and Jacksonville, as well as older industrial and Rustbelt metros like Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. But here again the white creative class share is 10 or 20 percentage points higher than the overall creative class shares for these metros. In fact, the white creative class in these lagging metros ranges from 35 to 40 percent—the equivalent of some of the highest overall creative class shares in the nation.

When we include small- and medium-sized metros, smaller college towns like Durham-Chapel Hill, Boulder, Ann Arbor, Charlottesville, and Ithaca top the list with roughly 50 to 58 percent of white workers in the creative class. Meanwhile, lagging places include smaller Rustbelt and Sunbelt metros like Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Arizona; Lima, Ohio; Danville, Illinois; and Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana, with around 27 percent.

Comparing the Black and White Creative Class

How do the black and white creative classes compare across U.S. metros?

The share of white workers in creative class jobs exceeds 40 percent in more than a quarter of all metros (27.8 percent, or 106 metros) and over 70 percent of large metros (37 of 51 metros). Conversely, the share of black workers in creative class jobs exceeds 40 percent in just 5.7 percent of all metros (20 metros total) and just one large metro.

The map below takes a closer look, charting the ratio of the black and white creative class for metros across the U.S. A ratio of 1 means that black and white workers are just as likely to hold creative class jobs. Ratios greater than 1, outlined in darker shades of purple on the map, indicate metros where black workers are relatively more likely to have creative class jobs than their white counterparts. Ratios less than 1, highlighted in blue on the map, highlight metros where white workers are relatively more likely to hold creative class jobs. Note the wide swaths of blue and few small specks of purple on the map. Across most of the nation, the share of white workers holding creative class jobs outpaces that of their black counterparts.

The table below shows the black-white creative class ratio for the ten leading and lagging large metros. What’s particularly notable is that not a single one of the 51 large metros across the United States has a ratio greater than 1. That means that there is not a single large metro across the country where the share of black workers in the creative class exceeds the share for white workers. Riverside-San Bernardino tops the list with a ratio of .87. (Interestingly enough, it also ranks among the metros with the lowest share of creative class workers in the nation.) Next in line are Phoenix, Sacramento, Portland, San Antonio, and Tampa. Rounding out the top ten are Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta, Louisville, and Charlotte.

Top Ten Large Metros Ratio of Black to White Creative Class
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 0.87
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 0.78
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA 0.77
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 0.76
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 0.73
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 0.71
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 0.70
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 0.70
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 0.70
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 0.70
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 0.70
Bottom Ten Large Metros Ratio of Black to White Creative Class
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 0.58
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 0.59
New Orleans-Metairie, LA 0.59
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 0.59
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 0.60
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 0.61
Rochester, NY 0.61
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 0.62
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 0.62
Kansas City, MO-KS 0.63
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 0.63
Richmond, VA 0.63

On the flip side, the bottom ten large metros include a mix of industrial metros like Milwaukee, service economies like New Orleans and Miami, and leading knowledge and tech hubs like San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver, as well as New York. Many of America’s leading tech and talent hubs also do relatively poorly in on this black-white creative class ratio: Washington, D.C.’s ratio, for instance, is .66, Boston’s is .65, and L.A. and Chicago’s .68.

Across the nation, there are just 22 metros where the black-white creative class ratio exceeds 1 (meaning that a greater share of black workers have creative class jobs, as compared to the share of white workers). These are all small metros like Lewiston, Idaho-Washington (2.03); Wausau, Wisconsin (1.62); Columbus, Indiana (1.55); Billings, Montana (1.49); and Idaho Falls, Idaho (1.47). Conversely, there are about 150 metros (40 percent) where this ratio is .65 or less and roughly 300 metros (79 percent) where it is .80 or less.

Characteristics of Black and White Creative Class Metros

What are the main social, economic, and demographic features of metros with larger or smaller concentrations of the black creative class? And how does this compare to metros that have a large concentration of the white creative class?

Initially, one might suspect that the black creative class is larger in the same places that boast a large white creative class. While there is a connection between the two (with a correlation of .44), they don’t always tend to follow the same patterns. That is to say, the black creative class does not merely flourish where the white creative class does. While we found a positive association between the share of black creative class employees and the creative class overall (.39), this association was significantly stronger between the overall creative class and the white creative class (.77). Both the black and white creative class are negatively associated with the share of workers in blue-collar working class jobs (with correlations of -.32 and -.62, respectively).

One might also suspect that the black creative class would be associated with the share of black residents in a metro. But that is not the case at all. In fact, we find a weak negative correlation between the black creative class and the black share of the population.  

My research has documented a close association between the creative class and the affluence of metros. Troublingly, that is not the case for the black creative class. There is no statistical association between the black creative class and economic output per person, a key measure for the underlying productivity of metros. There is a weak positive relationship between income and the black creative class (.14), but it pales in comparison to the association between income and the white creative class (.56).  

The black creative class does tend to be somewhat larger in more innovative metros with more high-tech firms (with a correlation of .27 to the concentration of high-tech firms and .18 to innovation based on patents). This contrasts with my earlier finding of a negative association between high-tech firms and the non-white share of the population. That said, these correlations are quite a bit smaller than those for the white creative class and high-tech firms (.68) and innovation (.44).

The black creative class is also larger in metros with more highly educated populations. It is positively associated with the share of adults who are college graduates (.31), although here again the correlation is substantially less than for the white creative class (.78).

My own research has long highlighted the connection between diversity and the creative class. Indeed, the black creative class is associated with two key measures of diversity and tolerance: the share of adults who are foreign-born (.34) and the share who are gay and lesbian (.36). But here again, these correlations are substantially less than for the white creative class (.55 for foreign-born and .67 for gays and lesbians).

Our analysis also found that the black creative class is larger in denser metros (with a correlation of .32 to population-weighted density), but still less than the correlation for the white creative class (.58). And while the creative class overall scales with the size of cities and metros, we find only a weak association between the black creative class and the size of metros based on population (with a correlation of .17, compared to a correlation of .54 for the white creative class).

The black creative class is also larger in more compact, less sprawling metros. It is negatively associated with the share of workers who drive to work alone, a proxy measure for sprawl (.34), though this is again less than the correlation for the white creative class (.54). Interestingly enough, the black (.25) and white (.26) creative class are similarly associated with the share of workers who walk to work, a key indicator of a more compact, denser area.

My previous research has found significant and sizable correlations between the creative class overall and both inequality and segregation. But the black creative class has no statistical association with income inequality based on the Gini coefficient—compared to a correlation of .40 for the white creative class. The black creative class is modestly associated with our measure of overall economic segregation (.20), but this correlation is much more modest than that for the white creative class (.66). Here our analysis finds that the black creative class may serve to mitigate both inequality and segregation to some degree. From a policy perspective, this means that efforts to boost the black creative class may help to combat inequality and segregation.

Toward Creative Class Equality

While a growing chorus of voices reminds us that race and class overlap at the bottom of the economic order, they also intersect at the upper reaches of the new economy. Both the creative class and the creative economy skew white, with black Americans being significantly less likely to occupy the key jobs that drive our post-industrial future. More than four in ten white workers hold creative class jobs, compared to less than three in ten black workers. And there is not a single large metro across the U.S. where the share of black workers in the creative class exceeds the share for white workers. Our efforts to build a more inclusive future for Americans must take this reality into account.

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