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Chicago Is Now Better Educated Than Its Suburbs

A flood of college graduates has made Chicago one of the best-educated cities in America, but an unequal one as well.

Some blue skies ahead.   Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

The other day Crain’s Greg Hinz noted a couple remarkable things about the city: ”for the first time ever, a majority of jobs in Chicago as a whole were located in the central area of the city,” and the percentage of adults 25 and up with at least a bachelor’s degree is the highest of the five largest cities in America. You can extend that out a bit farther: According to the Chicago Fed’s Midwest Economy blog, it’s actually the highest of the seven largest cities, just edging out New York City and more than five percentage points higher than the third-place city, Los Angeles.

Put the two together and you get this, following a twenty percent gain in college graduates in the city from 2010-2016:

The Midwest Economy blog gets a little deeper into just how the dynamics of Chicago’s college graduates break down. Long story short: the percentage of white residents with a college degree is very high compared to other cities; the percentage of African-Americans and Latinos with a college degree is not nearly as impressive.

I was curious how that inequality compares to a larger group. Any cutoff is going to be somewhat arbitrary, so I went with the 15 largest cities. Chicago still ranks very highly when it comes to white residents with at least a bachelor’s degree (second).

Looking at black residents, the city doesn’t fare as well (ninth).

Same with Latino residents (eighth).

The city that fares best across the board is Austin, in which at least 25 percent of each group has a bachelor’s degree. Since it’s the 11th-largest city in America, it doesn’t factor into the comparisons by Crain’s and the Chicago Fed, but it’s growing very, very fast, as cities lock in the gains from the return to cities.

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