America's least educated cities, 2014

The pursuit of higher education is more common in America today than in previous generations. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 41% of Americans aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in a two- or four-year degree-granting institution, far more than the 25.5% enrolled in 1967.

As of last year, nearly 30% of all American adults 25 and older had attained at least a bachelor’s degree. Yet, in some cities, a far higher percentage of residents are college-educated. Boulder, Colorado, led the nation last year with 58.5% of adults having attained at least a bachelor’s degree, while the Lake Havasu City, Arizona, metro area had the lowest percentage of college-educated adults, at just 11.3%.

According to Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University, a combination of related factors affect the likelihood college-educated adults will move to or stay in a particular city. In fact, an area’s college attainment rate is itself a major factor contributing to whether young people, or businesses, will move to an area.

Describing the cities with the lowest education attainment rates, Noguera said, “these cities are stuck in a vicious cycle. Low levels of education make it difficult for them to attract businesses that pay higher wages.” This results in, among other things, “young people moving away from the area as soon as they graduate from high school.”

Yahoo Homes is publishing America's five least educated cities here. To see the rest of the 10 least educated cities, visit 247WallSt.com:

As one might expect, cities with the lowest college attainment rates also tend to have lower median household incomes. Household incomes in most of these cities were far lower than the national median of $52,250 in 2013. The median household income in four of the least educated cities was less than $40,000. The one exception was the Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, metro area, where a typical household brought in $54,070, despite its low percentage of college-educated adults.

Individual earnings also vary dramatically according to a person’s level of education. While a typical American adult with less than a high school diploma earned slightly more than $20,000 in 2013, a typical person with a bachelor’s degree earned more than $50,000.

Noguera also pointed to other factors that help shape the relationship between education and income. “One factor influencing the relationship is the local economy and the types of jobs that are available. In the most prosperous cities — New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston — high-wage jobs are in the financial and high-tech sectors.”

According to a 2013 report from the Milken Institute, five of the 10 most educated metro areas had among the absolute highest shares of output from the technology sector in the nation. In fact, Corvallis, Oregon, had a greater high-tech GDP concentration than any other small city identified by the Milken Institute. Conversely, the areas with the lowest levels of educational attainment had among the lowest percentages of people working in these industries.

Many of the least educated cities, according to Noguera, have historically been dependent on agriculture and mining. Just 2% of the nation’s employment was in the agriculture, forestry, and mining industries as of last year. Yet, among many of the least educated cities, these sectors accounted for a far greater share of employment. For instance, the Madera, California, metro area led the nation with 23% of its workforce employed in these industries.

To identify the least educated cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed U.S. metropolitan areas with the lowest percentage of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013. Educational attainment rates, median earnings by level of education, household median income, population estimates, and poverty data all came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Unemployment rates came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are annual averages for 2013.

These are America's least educated cities:

Hanford in the 1950s.
Hanford in the 1950s.

5. HANFORD-CORCORAN, CALIFORNIA

Bachelor’s degree or higher:
12.9% (tied-4th lowest)
Median household income:
$45,774 (144th lowest)
Median earnings – bachelor’s degree:
$46,719 (138th highest)
Poverty rate:
21.4% (47th highest)

Less than 13% of adults living in the Hanford metro area had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, way below the national rate of 29.6%. Similar to several of the areas with low levels of education, and particularly those in California, more than 17% of Hanford’s workforce was employed in the agriculture, forestry, and mining industries. This was a higher percentage than all but four other metro areas. More than 21% of area residents earned incomes below the national poverty line last year, among the higher rates nationwide. Less than 4% of area adults had graduate degrees — nearly the lowest percentage — but these residents reported median earnings of nearly $69,500, higher than the median for similarly educated Americans in 2013.

Incoming thunderstorm over Farmington, photographed by Lance and Erin, Flickr.
Incoming thunderstorm over Farmington, photographed by Lance and Erin, Flickr.

4. FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO

Bachelor’s degree or higher:
12.9% (tied-4th lowest)
Median household income:
$43,787 (103rd lowest)
Median earnings – bachelor’s degree:
$40,503 (72nd lowest)
Poverty rate:
22.7% (27th highest)

College-educated Farmington area residents had median earnings of $40,503, considerably above the less-educated adults in the area, but nearly $10,000 below the median earnings for their peers nationwide. Wages may be expected to grow in the near future, as the San Juan Basin — located less than two hours from Farmington — is a major source of New Mexico’s budding oil boom. More than one in 10 members of the area’s workforce were employed in the agricultural, forestry and mining industries — which includes the energy sector. In the meantime, however, residents struggle with poverty and low incomes, with nearly 23% of people living in poverty last year, one of the highest rates nationwide.

Pinhole shot of fertilizer tank showing that El Centro is below sea level, taken by <a href=https://www.flickr.com/photos/crunchyfootsteps/8447055697 target=_blank>Kristy Hom, Flickr</a>.
Pinhole shot of fertilizer tank showing that El Centro is below sea level, taken by Kristy Hom, Flickr.

3. EL CENTRO, CALIFORNIA

Bachelor’s degree or higher:
12.7%
Median household income:
$43,310 (91st lowest)
Median earnings – bachelor’s degree:
$52,546 (38th highest)
Poverty rate:
22.1% (34th highest)

Poverty is relatively common in the El Centro metro area. Last year, more than 22% of El Centro residents had incomes below the poverty level, one of the higher rates nationwide. Just 12.7% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree. Despite the low rate, an education clearly pays off in the city. Median earnings among residents without a high school diploma were remarkably low, at just $13,259. A typical adult with a bachelor’s degree, however, earned $52,546, higher than national median for similarly educated Americans. Last year, more than 18% of El Centro’s population were non-citizens, the third highest percentage nationwide. Less than 8% of El Centro’s foreign-born, non-native population had a college degree last year.

Sign in Dalton, Georgia, photographed by Brent Moore, Flickr.
Sign in Dalton, Georgia, photographed by Brent Moore, Flickr.

2. DALTON, GEORGIA

Bachelor’s degree or higher:
12.2%
Median household income:
$37,659 (17th lowest)
Median earnings – bachelor’s degree:
$42,293 (149th lowest)
Poverty rate:
21.8% (38th highest)

The labor market in Dalton may demand qualifications many college graduates do not possess. More than 35% of the area’s workforce was employed in manufacturing last year, second only to the Columbus, Indiana, metro area. Many of these workers were likely employed by floor covering manufacturers, as Dalton is known as the carpet capital of the world. Like many other U.S. manufacturing centers, however, Dalton’s economy was hammered by the Great Recession. While pursuing higher education is a good investment in most of the country, college-educated Dalton residents received relatively low wages last year. Adults with graduate degrees made up just 5.4% of the population — one of the lower percentages — and had median earnings of less than $51,000, compared to over $65,000 nationwide.

Lake Havasu, photographed by Colin Haycock, Flickr.
Lake Havasu, photographed by Colin Haycock, Flickr.

1. LAKE HAVASU CITY-KINGMAN, ARIZONA

Bachelor’s degree or higher:
11.3%
Median household income:
$39,058 (26th lowest)
Median earnings – bachelor’s degree:
$37,452 (41st lowest)
Poverty rate:
21.2% (52nd highest)

Just 11.3% of adults living in the Lake Havasu metro area had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, a lower percentage than in every other U.S. metro area. Regardless of level of education, area residents earned relatively low incomes. A typical resident with a bachelor’s degree, for example, earned $37,452 last year, one of the lower median earnings among college-educated adults nationwide. With a poverty rate of 21.2% and a median household income of less than $40,000 in 2013, area residents were quite poor. An exceptionally high percentage of Lake Havasu’s workforce was employed in the entertainment and accommodations industry, at more than 21% last year, more than all but four other metro areas.

To see the rest of the 10 least educated cities, visit 247WallSt.com.

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