Cities have long been the place for good jobs. In San Antonio and other Southwestern cities, workers generally found work in a multiple of industries. For workers from nearby rural communities, San Antonio offered plentiful job opportunities to many with just a high school degree. For workers with limited education, jobs were generally available in low paying service sectors and low-skilled construction and manufacturing work. In the near future, those jobs may be more difficult to find.
The world of work is changing in San Antonio and in many large cities across America. A recent New York Times article by Badger and Bui (Jan. 12-2019) reported on important research related to the future of work in large cities. In “Opportunities in Cities Falls to the Educated,” details are offered by M.I.T. economist David Autor suggesting that “cities no longer offer low-skilled workers the economic advantages they once did.”
Over the last century as San Antonio expanded its manufacturing, construction, and service industries it relied on workers from rural communities, Mexico and other Texas cities. It is certainly the case that workers moved to San Antonio in the post World War II era to find better-paying jobs than those offered in rural communities.
Professor Autor notes that “Big, dense cities offered not just better pay for lower-skilled workers; cities offered them better kinds of jobs.” Thus while the greatest number of jobs were in construction and service industries, some of the better jobs were with Kelly Air Force Base, USAA, public schools, and medical facilities.
However, in recent years middle-skilled jobs in cities have been disappearing while wages have remained stagnant. According to the New York Times, Professor Autor attributes the declining urban wage premium to the disappearance of middle-skill jobs in production but also in clerical, administrative and sales work. Many of these jobs, he offered “have gone overseas. Others have been automated out of existence.”
There are some exceptions. The Toyota plant represents the newest example of San Antonio’s expansion in modern manufacturing jobs. Auto manufacturing pays well, but full-time employment in those jobs is minimal for the low-skilled workers.
What is being lost in San Antonio and other large cities are the middle-skilled jobs which included not just good wages, but also union benefits, retirement plans and paid vacations. As these middle-skilled jobs are lost, the jobs that remain are those for the very low-skilled and high-skilled.
Professor Autor’s major finding is that “the urban advantage that once existed for low-skilled workers is vanishing.” Does that spell disaster for low-income families living in cities like San Antonio? Earning a good wage has become harder. We are already seeing families survive by working multiple jobs. It is not uncommon for both parents to work two and three jobs each to try to support a family.
At this point, low-income families are staying put in San Antonio. Cities offer better school choices and medical clinics and hospitals are in abundance. Badger and Bui of the New York Times noted that opportunities of urban life include “the availability of nonprofits and social services, or of training programs, or better access to health care and public transit.”
The solution for those desiring good jobs in the future is education. Among the most and least educated cities in America, Ann Arbor, Michigan is #1 and San Antonio ranks #107. The Texas cities with higher education levels than San Antonio include Austin at #8, Dallas at #77 and Houston at #92. To be fair, great cities like Los Angeles ranked only #98.
A Federal Reserve report (Dec. 2018) notes that in San Antonio “Twenty-eight percent of the population age 25 and over holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, similar to the Texas average of 28.9 percent but markedly lower than neighbor Austin at 42.8 with a bachelor’s degrees.
San Antonio has numerous pockets where educational shortfall are evident and four areas–two in the Eastside and two in the Westside– are especially worrisome. Where there are educational shortfalls, there is poverty.
Significant poverty persists in large swaths of the Westside and Eastside of San Antonio. An excellent study by Lily Casura published in October 2017 in the HuffPost titled “Looking through an Equity Lens at San Antonio,” reveals the serious income and educational gaps of the city.
Not surprisingly, the zip codes or neighborhoods with the largest poverty index are also those with the least educated population. Casura defines the educational level as the percent of residents who have a high school diploma or GED. Two high poverty areas, zip codes 78207 and 78237 west of downtown, have an educational level of 52.70 and 53.20 respectively. Thus nearly half of the residents in these two zip code areas did not finish high school.
Two zip codes in the Eastside, 78202 and 78203 also have a low educational attainment population. The low educational level in these four communities cannot be blamed on immigrants or foreign-born residents. The Federal Reserve report noted that San Antonio had the lowest foreign-born population among the major Texas metros at 12.2 percent.
Lily Casura concluded that “Not only is San Antonio lower at every level of educational attainment when compared to the U.S. as a whole, but earning power is also down at every level — and worst at the high school graduate level, where the difference is more than 10 percent.”
We have work to do in San Antonio. We need to increase the minimum wages as other cities have done. We also need to increase the educational level in San Antonio. To improve our high school graduation rate, we must do more to educate the pre-k children of the city. We must do more to see those young teens complete middle school successfully. And we must encourage all high school graduates to consider going to college and graduating with an associate’s degree and consider an even higher level of achievement. This is a big task, but the very future of cities like San Antonio depends on educational success.