Scranton vs. Boise: Population Change and Education

Population Change in the 1990s and 2000s:
Scranton, Pennsylvania vs. Boise, Idaho

1990 2000 2009 Diff. ’90-’09
Scranton Metro 575,000 561,000 549,000 -4.5%
Boise Metro 320,000 465,000 606,000 +89.7%
USA (millions) 249 281 307 +23.4%

“The whites who live in Scranton are disproportionately stupid low-class whites”. So said blogger Half-Sigma, citing “Wikipedia”. Commenter Joe Walker wrote: “the younger, better educated whites [have probably] moved [from Scranton] to places like New York City”. This does seem an attractive theory to explain the trends seen here (albeit able to easily devolve into Chicken-or-Egg-ism). But is it true? [Note: The post “Most- and Least-Educated U.S. Metro Areas” was inspired by his comments.]

Scranton vs. Boise: Uneducated Backwater vs. Ivory-Tower Utopia?
Q. Does Scranton Metro have a very-low share of college graduates while Boise Metro has a high share of graduates, as Half-Sigma claimed?
A. It depends on age-bracket. Among young adults, no. Among older adults, yes.

Here are the numbers:

Percent Holding a College Degree, 2008, By Age and Locality

Age-Range USA Scranton Metro Scranton City Boise Metro Boise City
25-34 30.5% 29.5% 27.6% 27.2% 34.3%
35-44 30.2% 23.8% 20.4% 31.9% 42.5%
45-64 28.5% 23.4% 19.7% 29.5% 38.9%
65+ 19.3% 10.6% 10.8% 18.4% 24.4%

Among young-adults, Scranton-Metro is better-educated than Boise Metro.
Half-Sigma’s theory, that “stupid” Scranton loses droves of its smart youth, is wrong.

In more depth: Half-Sigma’s Wikipedia-scholarship is weak on two grounds:

1.) Uneducated Retirees, So What? A lesson in statistical distortion. “Scranton has a low share of college graduates”. Well, technically yes: But if you break it down by age bracket, it is clear that this only applies to the older Scrantonites. Among young-adults, Scranton Metro is more educated than Boise Metro. Boise Metro is ranked #72 in percentage of young-adults holding a degree among the USA’s 100 largest metros. Scranton Metro would rank #58, if it were big enough to be on the list. (You can check the numbers for any metro area here, by clicking “change geography” at the left). Young-adults are the most mobile, they are the ones who drive population increase or decrease. So we will have to look elsewhere than “Scranton is a moron’s haven” to explain its ongoing population decline.

2.) Core-City vs. Metro Area: The metropolitan-area is the entity of economic-significance today, not the core-city. “Scranton” may refer to a jurisdiction with 72,000 residents (Scranton City), or to a metropolitan area with 549,000 people (Scranton Metro, colloquially “Wyoming Valley”). Boise is the same: 205,000 in Boise City versus 600,000 in Boise Metro. As you can see in the above chart, Scranton’s Core-City is a bit depressed, but its Metro is not — when it comes to young-adults — in terms of education.

Measuring by core-city alone opens one up to wild distortions of reality: One would wonder what kind of stupid backwater Washington-DC was for the three or four decades that the District lost population. Washington-DC proper has 650,000 residents; DC Metro has 5.5-million and is actually the second-most-educated of the 100 largest metro areas in the USA.

All the same, Boise’s Core-City is better off than Scranton’s. Boise’s most-economically-valuable (educated) elements live in its core-city. The outerlying areas in Boise Metro drag it down. The Scranton region is the precise opposite. Why these two cities have opposite patterns in this way would be an interesting thing to investigate. It probably has to do with Boise being a new city, never developing a “depressed inner-city”. I believe people naturally want density and not sprawl, but various social trends in the USA prevent this. Except in certain cases, like the Pacific Northwest, and — it seems — Boise. (But I repeat myself?).

Prediction: As Scranton Metro’s young-adults have all-but caught up to the USA’s average in college-degree attainment, Scranton-Metro will stop losing population in the coming years.

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8 Responses to Scranton vs. Boise: Population Change and Education

  1. Pingback: The Most- and Least-Educated U.S. Metro Areas | Hail To You

  2. Steve Sailer says:

    Perhaps the better educated elderly Scrantonites retire to Florida, while the poorer ones can’t afford to go.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    What’s the economic base in Scranton? If it’s coal or steel, there’s been a huge fall off of employment in those fields. In Pittsburgh, the older folk tend to be blue collar, while the younger folk tend to work in health care or education or corporate management. Maybe Scranton is kind of like Pittsburgh.

  4. Silver says:

    If it’s coal or steel, there’s been a huge fall off of employment in those fields.

    Reminds me of this:

    And we’re living here in Allentown.
    But the restlessness was handed down
    And it’s getting very hard to staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
    aaaaaaah aaahhhhh ooooooooh ooooooh ohhhhhhh.

    Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
    For the Pennsylvania we never found
    For the promises our teachers gave
    If we worked hard
    If we behaved.

    So the graduations hang on the wall
    But they never really helped us at all
    No they never taught us what was real
    Iron or coke,
    Chromium steel.

    And we’re waiting here in Allentown.
    But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
    And the union people crawled awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaah.

    • Hail says:

      What is that from?

      FWIW: Allentown, Penn., for whatever reason, has not been in population decline in recent times. It gained 0.6% population in the 2000s. [Pennsylvania as a whole: +1.3%]

  5. Hail says:

    Two new factors that have come to my attention:

    City-Data tells us that crime rates in Scranton city and Boise city from 1999-2009 have been identical. [284.5 and 283.7, respectively. USA: ~319]. Both are very white cities. (88.6% vs. 84.6% White non-Hisp., resp.)

    The Mormon Church lays claim to 34% of Boise-ites, with the rest mostly being Protestants. The Roman-Catholic Church lays claim to most Scrantonites.

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