Mark O’Brien: Give us your tired, your poor, your service workers

Small communities have always faced “brain drain,” as many of their most educated young people leave for big cities, bright lights and the promise of bigger paychecks.

But the shift could be getting more extreme. A new study indicates that highly educated and skilled people are focusing on a relatively few large cities while people who lack education are drawn to communities heavily dependent on tourism and the service industry.

In Florida’s case, this means that Miami’s base of educated people is growing while those with only a high school degree or not even that credential are bound for Tampa, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Daytona Beach.

These findings come from Richard Florida, head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. His research team found that Miami’s population, for example, saw its rank of educated people grow and less educated residents shrink.

“Lower-paid workers are being priced out, and the jobs than can attract new residents are reserved for the most educated,” he wrote on — incidentally, a great site if you want to see snapshots of what’s happening in cities around the world. “These very different migration patterns reinforce the ongoing economic and social bifurcation of the United States.”

His research on this topic is limited to only one year, so it’s far from omniscient, but Florida says his data “effectively track the current net flow of people — that is, the ability of metros to both attract and retain American workers.”

Florida’s study includes a look at people with professional and graduate degrees, those with potential for the most growth. “There have been significant net inflows of educated people to the true meccas of knowledge work: Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Denver, San Jose, Austin and Portland, as well as the banking hub of Charlotte.”

Did you notice that no city in the Sunshine State made this list?

Floridians have another problem: We may be working again, but many of us aren’t making the money we once did.

Independent economist Elliot Eisenberg notes that the total number of working Americans recently began to exceed the number of workers before the recession began, but “the quality of the new jobs is not great.

“While food service, social assistance and home healthcare have seen the largest increases in employment — 3.1 million jobs collectively — high-paying sectors like manufacturing, construction and government are collectively employing 3.6 million fewer persons than before the start of the Great Recession,” he wrote.

Tourism still brings money and people to Florida, but those service jobs don’t pay the money and benefits once delivered by the construction and government jobs that have vanished.

Consider this one more reason why Florida doesn’t make the grade with bright young people.

Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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