A December 2005 study from CEOs for Cities (available for download here, and discussed in the Washington Post) puts a finer point (or perhaps an exclamation point) on the ”Creative Class” hysteria of the past few years. Beyond the hazy competition among cities in luring creative workers, this study suggests the real competition should be for citizens of a certain age: the 25-35 year old. Why? They’re more mobile. They’re more connected. They’re more likely to live near downtown. And they’re a scarce commodity as the total American labor pool takes a sudden and enduring drop.
The three decisive trends that drove the growth of the U.S. labor force — the maturing of the baby boom generation, the greatly increased economic role of women and the increase in college attainment — all reverse or flatten out in the next two decades. The baby boom generation, now in its peak earning years, will soon begin retiring, depriving the economy of some of its most seasoned workers. Women’s labor force participation, which has doubled since the 1950s and been a key part of growing the U.S. economy, cannot go much higher. And finally, the expansion of college education in the last two generations, which has raised college attainment rates from less than 10 percent of the population to more than 30 percent of young adults, has stopped growing. The combination of baby boom retirements, no net additions of women to the labor force and a constant college attainment rate mean that labor is likely to be in short supply over the next two decades.
Now, the connection arts leaders make between this problem and their own work is a complex one. But the report’s recommendations expose a few places that the professional nonprofit arts might play an important role:
- Make people the focus of economic development
- Become a city where women and ethnically diverse young people can achieve their goals
- Openness and engagement are key to rooting talent in place
- Investing in higher education is important, but it won’t solve the problem
- Vibrant urban neighborhoods are an economic asset
- The economic importance of being different
A conclusion within that final item is also useful, suggesting that ”local voice” and ”local character” might be an essential criteria even among the nationally significant cultural institutions.
We live in a nation (and a world, thanks to globalization) where culture has become increasingly homogenized, where one suburban community, strip mall, freeway exit looks exactly like every other. But a reaction is brewing, emerging from the ground up. Many people want choices and a sense of place that moves past the bland of the national brand.