Abstract

Many metropolitan areas have experienced extreme boom-bust cycles over the past century. Some places, like Detroit, grew enormously as industrial powerhouses and then declined, while other older cities, like Boston, seem quite resilient. Education does a reasonable job of explaining urban resilience. In this paper, we present a simple model where education increases the level of entrepreneurship. In this model, human capital spillovers occur at the city level because skilled workers produce more product varieties and thereby increase labor demand. We decompose empirically the causes of theconnection between skills and urban success and find that skills are associated with growth in productivity or entrepreneurship, not with growth in quality of life, at least outside of the West. We also find that skills seem to have depressed housing supply growth in the West, but not in other regions, which supports the view that educated residents in that region have fought for tougher land-use controls. We also present evidence that skills have had a disproportionately large impact on unemployment during the current recession.