A woman using a smartphone and laptop in an urban cafe.
Mike Segar/Reuters

Washington, D.C., has the highest share of creative-class workers among large U.S. cities, but Miami’s creative class is growing faster.


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This is the third post in a four-part series on the economic performance of America’s cities. Today, we cover the creative class.

The class composed of knowledge workers, techies, and cultural creatives is a key force in the economic growth of U.S. cities. More than 55 million workers are members of America’s creative class, or above 35 percent of the workforce. The creative class is one way of measuring talent or human capital, based on occupation or skill—the other way being educational attainment, which we covered in the previous post in this series. The first post looked at large cities’ population and job growth. (Those posts also include a description of the data sources and methodology used in this series.)

The graphic below shows the top 10 and bottom 10 cities on this measure. The leading city, Washington, D.C., has nearly three times the concentration of the creative class of the most lagging city, Detroit.  In the four leading cities, the creative class makes up between half and 60-plus percent of the workforce; in the bottom five, it makes up less than 30 percent.

The list of leading cities for the creative class is dominated by tech and knowledge hubs. D.C. comes top, with a creative-class share of more than 60 percent. The creative class makes up more than half the workforce in Seattle, San Francisco, and (perhaps a bit surprisingly) Atlanta. Minneapolis, Austin, Boston, Portland, Denver, and San Diego round out the top 10.

There is some overlap between the leading cities and the leading metro areas for the creative class. Washington, D.C.; Seattle; San Francisco; Austin; and Boston rank among the top 10 in both. But the superstar cities of New York and Los Angeles fall a bit further down the city list; New York ranks 21st, with a 39 percent creative-class share of the workforce, while L.A. comes 28th with 36 percent.

The bottom 10 creative-class cities are a mix of Rust Belt and Sunbelt places. Despite the narrative about its resurgence, and even gentrification, Detroit has the lowest share of the creative class of any large city by far—less than a quarter of its workforce. This list has Southern Rust Belt cities (Memphis and Louisville), as well as Sunbelt cities (Las Vegas, Miami, Arlington, Texas, and El Paso). Houston and Dallas do somewhat better, with a 35 percent creative-class share (ranking 30th) and 33 percent share (ranking 38th), respectively.

There is less overlap between the cities and metros with the smallest shares of creative-class workers. Only Memphis, Las Vegas, and Miami rank high on both measures. Although Detroit has the lowest share of creative-class workers among cities, it sits in the middle of the pack (23rd) among large metros, with 36.4 percent.

But the pattern is quite a bit different, and considerably more interesting, when it comes to the growth of the creative class. Now Miami leads, with 40 percent growth from 2012 to 2017. It is followed by Fort Worth and Mesa. The top 10 in growth includes major tech hubs like Denver, Austin, San Jose, and Seattle. But it also includes the Sunbelt hot spots of Charlotte and Atlanta, the latter of which numbers among the leading big cities in many categories of talent.

New York and Los Angeles, and some leading tech hubs, experienced slower creative-class growth. New York saw 16 percent, ranking 37th out of the 50 largest cities; Los Angeles, 20 percent (ranking 28th). Washington, D.C. posted 23 percent growth (19th), San Francisco, 24 percent (18th), and Boston, 26 percent (11th).

Arlington, Texas, has the slowest creative-class growth by far, experiencing a decline of a bit more than 1 percent. Louisville, Memphis, and Milwaukee number among the bottom 10 for growth, along with Wichita, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Virginia Beach, and Colorado Springs.

There is little overlap between cities proper and metros when it comes to this growth. Only two places, Las Vegas and Seattle, rank in the top 10 both as cities and metros. And only one place, Memphis, counts among the 10 cities and 10 metros with the slowest creative-class growth.

Miami is, again, a fascinating outlier: It has the fastest growth in creative-class share of any big U.S. city, but it falls among the bottom 10 in creative-class growth for large metros.

The next post will turn to the downsides of the urban revival, tracking the level of economic inequality and extent of the new urban crisis in America’s largest cities.

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