Friday, May 29, 2015

Cities, Jobs, and Careers: What Two New Studies Can Teach Us

A 16-page effort by the website WalletHub came out early this month.  It is titled “2015’s Best & Worst Cities to Start a Career,” and, using no fewer than 19 different criteria, ranks the country’s 150 largest places for suitability for new college graduates to start their professional working lives. 

Within a few days, a similar recent effort also crossed my desk.  Issued by employment site Glassdoor, it assesses the “25 best cities for jobs.”  It is designed more for work seekers in general, and incorporates only four factors:  the number of per capita job openings, Glassdoor data’s median base salary, the area’s “median home (house) value,” and their “job satisfaction rating.” 

So what can we learn from these?

First, each piece of research has its good and bad points.  The WalletHub study used factors ranging from median income growth rate and economic mobility to number of arts, leisure, and recreation establishments per 100,000 inhabitants and even climate (“weather”), and weighted them intelligently.  Instead of overall average local pay, it used monthly median starting salary, adjusted for the area’s cost of living.  On the downside, the 150 largest American cities include many suburbs, and breaking apart metropolitan areas was misleading; people working in Anaheim, Garden Grove, or Santa Ana may live and use other resources in any of those places, leaving us to wonder which of their rankings of 80th, 102nd, and 104th respectively were the most pertinent, and if a combination, given that people could take the best from each city, might come out higher than any of its parts. 

The Glassdoor study avoids that problem, but suffers from use of its own employment data, which may not be representative, and by using what seem to be single-family house prices instead of a more comprehensive cost of living measure.  It does, though, incorporate critical information in a more limited and therefore less presumptuous set of criteria.

Second, there was a definite correlation between the studys’ results.  The places turning up near the top in both, in rough order, were Austin, Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Raleigh, the latter finishing first in the Glassdoor effort.  (After two Dallas suburbs, Austin did best in WalletHub’s.)   None of the lowest-ranking 21 in the WalletHub study made Glassdoor’s top 25.  The largest splits may have been on Denver (not mentioned in Glassdoor, 4th of 150 in WalletHub), Omaha (not in Glassdoor, 20th in WalletHub), St. Louis (11th of 50 in Glassdoor, 109th in WalletHub), and Baltimore (22nd in Glassdoor, 129th in WalletHub).  The five worst true cities in WalletHub, none in Glassdoor’s top 25, were, from the bottom, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

Third, according to these studies the bloom is off the rose of some places previously called good for jobs.  Chicago (105th in WalletHub, 20th in Glassdoor), Los Angeles (98th and not named), and Orlando (73rd and not named) are nothing special now, and both New York (not in Glassdoor and 119th, with Jersey City and Newark 74th and 125th respectively, in WalletHub) and Las Vegas (131st in WalletHub, absent from Glassdoor) came in well below average.

Fourth, it is always necessary with multi-component studies to consider which criteria actually matter.  Those deviating significantly from WalletHub’s picture of what is important to career starters in their 20s should factor out the ones they don’t care about – those married, for example, can drop the “Single People” Ranking. 

Fifth, there are indeed massive differences between areas.  A WalletHub publicity email broadcast named several of them:  the monthly cost-of-living-adjusted starting salary three times higher in Houston than in Honolulu; the share of people aged 25 to 34 twice as high in Jersey City than in Cape Coral, Florida; seven times as many per-capita arts, leisure, and recreation establishments in Los Angeles than in Laredo; and more.  In recent years, western North Dakota’s employment boom has reminded us of these regional variations, and they are, as almost always, real.

Sixth, though the jobs crisis is hardly over, unemployment has eased, and it is now well worth considering relocating for better employment conditions.  They should usually be more broad-based than one job offer, which can disappear, but with differences such as the above, moving would be a winner for many.

Seventh, people living in this area of the country, namely the Catskills and Poconos where few professional careers can be started, the best overall reasonably nearby places to move, according to these two studies, are Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston.  All are within a half-day drive of here, and worthy of special consideration. 

In all, these studies are constructive, well thought out, and, within their limitations above, are valuable inputs to those wanting career success.  Sometimes people need to move to get what they want, and, as WalletHub and Glassdoor correctly imply, 2015 may be one of those times.   

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