San Diego, one of the five richest cities in the U.S. Wow. Details?

A lot of blue-collar jobs have gone away

New census bureau data show the direct link between percentage of bachelor’s degrees and median income in urban areas.
  • New census bureau data show the direct link between percentage of bachelor’s degrees and median income in urban areas.

Brains and bucks go together. Cities with the highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or more tend to enjoy higher household incomes. Look no further than San Diego.

On September 20, the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau published new figures about cities and metropolitan areas: specifically, median household incomes and percentages of people 25 years of age or older with at least a bachelor’s degree.

San Diego stood out with median household income of $60,797 last year. Fully 41.1 percent of those over 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28.5 percent for the nation.

The bureau put out news releases for certain cities. San Diego had higher incomes and higher educational attainment than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis. San Jose had higher income and Austin, Texas, higher educational attainment.

The media jumped on the bandwagon. MarketWatch.com said San Diego was one of the five richest cities, behind San Jose, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Seattle.

The census’s findings appeared to validate a U.S. News University Connection story this year that listed San Diego ninth among “The Top 10 Smartest Cities in America.”

Feeling smug? Well, San Diego is smart, but not that smart. The statistics above relate to cities, not metropolitan areas. The Census Bureau released comparative data on metro areas, too, and those figures are most relevant. The San Diego–Carlsbad–San Marcos Metropolitan Statistical Area is the same as San Diego County, and it’s the nation’s 17th-largest metro area.

And on a metro basis, San Diego doesn’t do quite as well as the city. The percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is 34.2, and the median household income $59,477. But almost half the adults in the Washington D.C. metro area have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the median household income is highest in the nation at $86,680. (Lobbyists rake in oodles of money. Politicians do well, and so do their footmen.)

The San Jose metro area (essentially, Silicon Valley) sports the second-highest median household income at $84,012, with 47 percent of the adults having at least a bachelor’s degree. Not surprisingly, the Boston/Cambridge area has median income of $69,455, with 46.8 percent of adults having at least a bachelor’s. It’s the same story in San Francisco/Oakland, with median incomes of $71,975 and 45.9 percent educational attainment. Some other metro areas: Minneapolis/St. Paul, $63,352 and 40.6 percent; Seattle, $64,085 and 38.2 percent; and Raleigh, $59,197 and 43.7 percent.

Generally, they have the same characteristics: big universities in the area and lots of high tech industries. Boston/Cambridge and San Francisco/Oakland are classic examples, and on a smaller scale, Boulder, Colorado, is an eyepopper. No fewer than 62 percent of adults in the Boulder area have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income is $68,637.

The reverse is true as well. Only 15.8 percent of the folks in Brownsville, Texas, have a bachelor’s, and median family income is a mere $32,070. Less than 16 percent of the adults in Yuma and El Centro have degrees, and incomes are below $39,000.

The brainy folk don’t seem to mind shelling out big bucks for their daily bread. Boston’s cost of living is almost 40 percent higher than the nation’s. San Francisco’s is 66.5 percent higher, and San Diego’s almost 33 percent. According to Zillow, Boston’s metro area median home value is $310,500, San Diego’s $351,300, San Francisco’s $491,700, and San Jose’s a whopping $589,200. That’s against $152,100 for the nation as a whole.

Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments, says that the relationship between education level and income “is getting stronger. The recession was extremely hard on low-income households, and especially people with a high school degree or lower. A lot of blue-collar jobs, not necessarily requiring higher education but having middle income wages, have gone away or been reduced and haven’t come back.” And the higher-paying jobs that are being created require higher educational attainment.

One reason San Diego’s unemployment rate is significantly lower than the state’s is that when there are layoffs of lower-paid people, they retreat to their homes in south Riverside County and Tijuana, says Cox.

Corinne Wilson, research and policy lead for the Center on Policy Initiatives, says that one reason the city of San Diego does better than the county is that there are so many tech jobs and graduates in the La Jolla area. Conversely, look at the percentages of county residents below the poverty line: Vista, 20; Escondido, 21.6; National City, 22; and El Cajon, 23.6. “We did an analysis of private sector industry jobs from 2001 to 2010,” she says. County jobs growth was basically flat, and the jobs lost paid $62,000 a year while jobs gained paid $49,000. “For every high-wage job we create, we create eight low-wage jobs.”

Businesses are attracted to metro areas with a pool of educated people, says Kelly Cunningham, economist for the National University System Institute for Policy Research. In San Diego, the big research institutions such as Scripps Research Institute and Salk Institute spin off businesses that need educated employees. Cunningham points out that 6 percent of San Diego businesses and 11 percent of jobs are in technology. “Average pay in the tech industries is $100,000 per job, almost double the average job in the county of $51,000,” he says. Also, college grads are needed in small businesses: the county has 97,500 businesses and 96 percent have 50 or fewer employees. Unemployment rates are lower for college grads than for those with a high school degree or less.

“What we are seeing is a lot of jobs in research and development, related to biotech and life sciences, telecom, and engineering,” says Alan Gin, economist at the University of San Diego. ■

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Don -- tell me there's a 'sweet spot' somewhere. Our top-earning cities, like Washington and San Jose (and San Diego) are wildly overpriced and overcrowded. Our lowest-earning cities, like Brownsville, aren't places where anybody in their right mind would go to live.

Anyplace in the middle? With jobs, low crime levels, and a reasonable amount of educated people, but not so many as to be Starbucks-insufferable? Not completely congested? In that regard, I think cities built before automobiles are far better for walking... anyway, any ideas?

Here are some enticing cities with cost of living below the national average: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boise, Charlotte, Cheyenne, Cincinnati, Colorado Springs, Dallas, Dubuque, Huntsville, Idaho Falls, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Las Cruces, Nashville, Omaha, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Reno, Roanoke, San Antonio, St. George (UT), Tampa-St. Petersburg, Tucson, Winston-Salem, Yakima. There are others such as New Orleans that I wouldn't roll the dice on. Best, Don Bauder

Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Tucson, Phoenix are enticing cities??? Obviously you haven't visited any of them recently. I have and they are far from enticing, regardless of the cost of living. Just my opinion. Opinions vary.

I have been to Cincinnati-and it is beautiful, in fact every place I visited in Ohio I LOVED. I will also vouch for Nashville, beautiful, houses have HUGE lots, acre and above, cheap housing, wonderful area. St George Utah, and many places right outside of SLC are also great places. Utah is a beautiful state too. Also having lived in MI I can say I would live there too, particularly some of the suburbs of Detroit, like Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Shores, St Claire Shores, all of which are on the water and get plenty of sun in Winter (middle of the state is overcast ALL winter long).

Admittedly, Phoenix is hotter than Hades in the summer. But I have always liked the other three. Best, Don Bauder

Lived in Yuma, it is hotter in Yuma. I like Yuma b/c it is small and a tank of gas lasts 3 weeks b/c everything is so close together. And gas is cheaper too, less taxes on it and does not require the special blending (and higher costs) that CA gas does.

Yuma's not a bad little place; been there many times. Heat is no problem for us. We used to drive down from Palm Springs when the Padres held spring training there when the Angels weren't at home in PS.

I didn't say I didn't like them. As far as I'm concerned, Phoenix is a pit and you couldn't pay me to live there. And yes, we have spent quite a bit of time in the aera. My neice, my wife's sisters oldest, live in the Pinnacle Peak area of No. Scotsdale. Plenty of nice areas around Phoenix to live in, but not in Phoenix itself. No way no chance. As for the other tree, been to them too. One of my wife's oldest friends is very good artist. She moved to Santa Fe quite some time ago. We drive over to see her a couple of times a year. We usually take the south route, because even though it's longer, to me it's an easier drive, especially in the winter months. We have stopped in Tucson on many occasions and it's not a bad place. We usually drive thru Las Cruces and stop in Hatch, for obvious reasons and continue on thru Albuquerque to Santa Fe. There's really nothing bad about any of the other three. Las Crices nice little hamlet and the only negative is that is only about 50 miles up I10 from Ciudad Juarez. In Tucson, the real estate and unemployment are still terrible. Having been to all of them, I personally just don't find anything enticing about them. It would take just a little bit more than a cost of living lower than the national average for me to want to live somewhere.

Pup, I have to admit that this is the first time I've ever seen the words "Cincinnati" and "beautiful" employed in the same sentence. I suppose the unique alien-greenish hue that defines the Ohio River might be considered beautiful in some galaxies, mine excluded. Indeed, the River's own sanitation commission, when asked if the Ohio River is safe for swimming, answers "Yes and no".


And the following quote is attributed to Mark Twain (or sometimes Will Rogers) during his stint at a printing company there during the 1880's: "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times."

Personally, I think the term "urban blight" may have originated there.

Yes, we went over that bridge going down to FL, I-75??, and we did stop in, and it WAS nice, in fact every place we stopped going down thru Ohio was very nice IMO.

We ate at the Waffle House in Sydney Ohio, cool lil town. Kentucy was SUPER green, and again, nice......

If you think Urban Blight is Cinci-you have never been to Detroit. Detroit is the most blighted major metro area in America today. Devastating.

Agreed on Detroit. But Detroit simply fell apart. Cincy is still bustling. It astounds me that they don't put much money into improvements. And I've seen most of the US myself, especially when I owned an 18-wheeler.

SP: I used to go to Cincinnati regularly and liked. It has good opera and symphony orchestra and charm. Utah is a beautiful state -- particularly Southern Utah. How could a state with such an ugly name -- "Utah" -- be so visually attractive? Best, Don Bauder

SP: I wouldn't care for Yuma. Obviously, Detroit has collapsed economically and many places are dangerous. There are beautiful old homes that can be bought for a song but they are in dangerous neighborhoods. I would avoid anything in Detroit -- and Cleveland, too, where I lived for 7 years. Best, Don Bauder

I would live in Grosse Pointe and the surrounding areas, no problem. In fact if money were no object I would buy a home there and live there part of the year....BTW the middle of the state is just like Cleveland, overcast 29 days of the month from Oct/Nov through March-and that is not an exaggeration.

Tom: Yuma is a strange town: it empties out in the summer but fills up in the winter when the snowbirds show up. Best, Don Bauder

That can be said of most cities in AZ, and indeed most sunbelt cities where "snowbirds" abandon cold weather states for the winter....

Tom: I have always found Tucson charming. And the weather is much better than Phoenix's. Las Cruces is kind of quaint and has New Mexico State University. Santa Fe is wonderful but expensive. Albuquerque, not a long distance so the south, has reasonable prices and the city has charm, too. Best, Don Bauder

To each their own. We've been to all of them since about mid June, and as I said they aren't bad places, it's just for us, having a lower cost of living than the national average, which is what began the conversation, wouldn't be enough to entice us to live in any of them. We're up in Burlingame right now, and personally, for my money, I would choose to live here before choosing either of the four cities I mentioned. More enticements here, I suppose.

Burlingame is in-or close enough to- Silican Valley, th cost of living there must be sky high.......

Well, It's about 30ish miles down to Cupertino where one of our friends works and I guess about 20 miles or so into into SF where the other one works. And yeah the cost of living is pretty much sky high. I think the total index is around 190. Most everything is pretty close to the rest of Ca., which means it's above the national average, except for housing, which is totally outrageous. Our friends have lived here for at least 20 yrs, probably closer to 25. They are lucky though. We remember when they bought their house. I think they looked for a coupe of years before they found what they wanted. They bought an old Victorian. I don't know how much they paid, but I know they bought it fairly cheaply because it needed a lot of work. By a lot, I mean to us it was barely liveable, imo. But that's what they were looking for. We've put in some hard hours with them on more than one occasion, but it turned out really nice. It took them probably ten years to do everything they wanted. When they were finished, they had a big party for all of their friends that helped to celebrate that it was finally done and that they had also paid off their mortgage. So with no house payment, they would be looking pretty good even if they didn't make a lot of money In any case, as far as I'm concerned, cost of living would be a small factor in deciding where to live. I don't care how cheap it is, if it doesn't have what I want I wouldn't live there regardless.

Duhbya: I always found Cincinnati charming. On the other hand, I was coming there from Cleveland, so the comparison was easy. Actually, the eastern exurbs of Cleveland, where we lived, were quite beautiful. Cleveland's culture -- orchestra, art museum, opera -- was great; but the constant grayness is horrible on the psyche. Those constant gray skies hang over the area from Toledo to Erie, Pennsylvania. Buffalo suffers from it, too -- as well as from unbelievable snow.Best, Don Bauder

SP: Southeast Ohio is Appalachian country. Best, Don Bauder

SP: You can rest your case on this: the median home price in the San Jose metro area is $589,200 and San Francisco $491,700. The median in the Detroit metro area is $77,600. Best, Don Bauder

Duhbya: Some speculators are buying up homes in Detroit and Cleveland at ridiculously low prices. Will the strategy work? I wouldn't try it, but I am an investor, not a gambler. Best, Don Bauder

One would expect that there might be a few success stories pending. Emphasis on few.

Don, there is only ONE reason that San Jose has a median home price of that amount-Silicon Valley. W/o tech the median would be half that. SF has always been one of the highest cost cities in America, second usually only to NYC. The city is small and completely built out. The Avenues in SF, out by the beach and away from the financial district, had beautiful SFR homes, and working class people lived there up until about 25 years ago. Once the tech boom started in the late 1980's it turned into a place only engineers and and Hi Tech people could afford.

Duhbya: You hear corporations all the time saying that management deserves its outrageous pay because the company is keeping costs low. So why don't more companies move to Cleveland? They can get commercial space at a fraction of what it costs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago. So if they really don't want to cut costs, why don't they occupy some of those building in downtown Cleveland with ultra-cheap leases? Best, Don Bauder

You are asking them to back up their corporate double-speak? Tut, tut, mon frere . Plus, they'd be hard-pressed to maintain their lofty images in lesser environs like Cleveland et al. Just another "cost of doing business".

Don, they wont rent space in Cleveland, they are a bunch of hypocrites.

Duhbya: Yes, the word FEW may be the relevant one. Best, Don Bauder

SP: The San Jose area was a pretty dreary agricultural place until tech blossomed. Best, Don Bauder

Duhbya: For someone like me who has heard corporate double-speak for half a century, I should be more astute. Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauder - doing his best to help preserve the fine art of sarcasm.

Thank you

SP: Yes, it's hypocrisy. Best, Don Bauder

HERE ARE SOME MORE LOW COST-OF-LIVING METRO AREAS: Here are some more metro areas with a cost-of-living below the U.S. average: Amarillo, Ames (IA), Anderson (SC), Auburn (AL), Austin, Baton Rouge, Birmingham (AL), Bismarck, Brownsville (TX -- 16% below U.S. average), Buffalo, Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, Cedar Rapids, Champaign-Urbana, Chattanooga, Columbia (MO), Corpus Christi, Danville (IL and VA), Dayton, Des Moines, Detroit, Eau Claire, El Paso, Elkhart, Erie, Fargo, Fayetteville, Ft. Smith (15% below national average), Fort Wayne, Green Bay, Houston, Lincoln, Memphis, Milwaukee, Mobile, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Peoria, Provo, Pueblo (CO), Rockford (IL), Salt Lake City, Sarasota, South Bend, St. Louis, Topeka, Tulsa, Wichita, and Youngstown.

I should have listed Austin among the most attractive cities. It is great. Youngstown is the hell-hole of the earth. I used to like Dayton, but it is now quite depressed. Des Moines has advantages. I wouldn't live in Orlando or Ft. Myers unless forced at gunpoint. St. Louis? The less said the better. Charleston (SC) has a cost-of-living right at the national average. It is a great city. Best, Don Bauder

Wow! Thanks, Don -- and everyone else who contributed to this thread! So many neat cities, so little time.

Big news for me -- that Charleston SC has a US-average cost-of-living. It is a VERY beautiful city. Also, that there are so many nice alternatives to big-city living. And shocked that Detroit homes average only $71,000.

For anyone worried that we still might be headed for another big crash, there's Eugene and Salem up in Oregon... nice enough, and you can grow anything in the Willamette river valley...

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