Here's the real problem: We are dead last in the country -- dead last -- when it comes to attracting new graduates and workers who have never been here before. This information comes from the Federal Reserve Bank in Buffalo, where Richard Deitz completed this study a year ago.
The problem is that political candidates find it easier to talk about a brain drain, which is a different problem.
Yesterday, Democratic congressional candidate Alice Kryzan sent out a release that declared her support for "investing in innovation and research to reverse the region's brain drain." Her opponent, Republican Chris Lee, kicked off his run for Congress by saying that "all of this government red tape has led to a brain drain of our youth." Eric Massa, a candidate for Congress in the 29th district, writes on his website about his desire to "slow the brain drain of talented young people."
There is much to be gained declaring a war on brain drain. It will get you elected. It will help you sell books and even land gobs of research money. You can attract pork to your pet project or favorite financially struggling institution. I think doing so is tantamount to stealing, but there is plenty of gray area to soothe anyone's conscience. In some cases, the ends seem to justify the means.
Unfortunately, the looming talent shortage is very real and struggling regions need to boldly face the gloomy numbers. Young adults will continue to leave and it is in their best interest to do so. Enough former residents will not return. For this meager migration, I would stress quality not quantity. And the dwindling population tends to be more a function of aging than the exodus working age people. Finally, increasing immigration would be the best cure for the demographic ailment.