Monday, October 01, 2007

Migration, Income and Pittsburgh

Colleen Paulson connects low wages in Pittsburgh with the out-migration of young adults in this Sunday's Post-Gazette:

As a region, we have wondered why our young people continue to leave the area, and we have explored many ways to encourage them to stay. However, maybe the problem is that we expect our highly skilled workforce to take a pay cut in order to remain in Pittsburgh -- in effect, to pay a "Pittsburgh tax."

I'll take the high road this time and forego the assumption that Ms. Paulson is suggesting that the solution to the out-migration "problem" is a higher wage. The explicit message is that the pay in the Pittsburgh region is not competitive, but people are willing to work for less in order to live there. The conclusion is that young people, more so than older adults, use an economic rationale to make a location decision.

Richard Florida provides the counter-narrative to Ms. Paulson's migration model. Take Tucson's brain drain as an example. Dr. Florida is mindful of the attraction of better income, but that's not the whole story:

"What we're looking for is communities to build on the creativity of everyone," Florida said. "It's about making your place an exciting place to live. It's a people climate - a sweet spot in the middle that is affordable."

There is an important social variable to consider when you predict the migration of the 20-something demographic that both Pittsburgh and Tucson would like to capture. If you know a young adult trying to make it in New York City, you understand what Dr. Florida is describing. Young adults pay a similar "tax" to live in cool and creative places. This is why the world is spiky.

Ms. Paulson should consider why college graduates leave Pittsburgh in order to take an unpaid internship in Washington, DC.

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