Monday, February 16, 2009

Revisiting Geographic Immobility

I must have ruffled a few feathers with my post about libertarian ideology and brain drain boondoggles. I confused the issue because I didn't bother to disaggregate the migration data, thus leading one of my readers to call for clarification. New Geography (sort of) did the work for me and came to the following conclusions:

High inmigration, low native born states tend to be high in natural amenities (read: mountains) or recent boom states in the west - many of which may have capitalized on the exodus from California. Note that North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee have similar numbers.

Most interesting is the grouping towards the upper right: states with both above average number of those born in state and positive or near positive migration. Could this signal a return of the diaspora to states like Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Utah, or even Wisconsin and Pennsylvania?

I should add that the New Geography blogger looked at net domestic migration rate and geographic immobility. The scatter plot is a little misleading, like my original post on the subject. A more robust comparison would look at out-migration rates and in-migration rates relative to geographic immobility. On the balance, the state may be losing people. But is that the result of waning in-migration or growing out-migration?

Most Rust Belt states suffer from decreasing rates of in-migration. The talent problem is a lack of brain gain, not brain drain. Furthermore, are natural amenities or low taxes the primary attraction benefiting states such as Colorado? I don't think I've seen a libertarian migration analysis that controls for variables such as climate. But that doesn't seem to stop small government advocates from making baseless claims and fueling brain drain hysteria.


MarkS said...


You're right on to suggest that we need to be looking at in and out flows separately. The problem is that Census estimates only publish the net number. We can get it separately, but that requires a self tabulation of PUMS data. I'll do that for states if I get the chance.

As I know you are aware, some great work to that end has been done by Richard Deitz of the NY Federal Reserve (his stuff on manufacturing workforce is very interesting as well).

I agree that the ongoing brain drain meme is lunacy, mostly because it tends to be so age focused. Top down policy will have absolutely no effect on the location decisions of 24-25 year olds - especially policies that aim to "create" lifestyle amenities. There's a certain percentage of recent grads willing to stay in a region such as Pittsburgh if they can find reasonable work. Start with that disconnect - real or perceived - by perhaps beefing up networks of students and small growing companies with little HR acumen, but don't try to pay the kids off with tax breaks.

Thanks for your diligence on these topics-

Jim Russell said...


Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the subject. I figured you are aware as I am of the in-migration/out-migration breakdown. The Intermountain West is renown for attracting new residents, which often glosses over the concern about brain drain (which is very real in Colorado). The Deitz report, as you note, also helped to foster more confidence in my critique of brain drain policy. The FRB of Minneapolis published a great expose of brain drain policy back in 2003:

The amount of money thrown at creating a brain drain plug is staggering. Of course, the amount spent on educating the local workforce is even more so and I understand why communities are so concerned to the point of being fleeced. That said, I'm of the opinion that any policies aimed at retaining homegrown talent will fail to deliver.

I've yet to find any study of a successful brain drain initiative. Are you aware of any? I'd be much obliged if you would share the reference.