Monday, February 08, 2010

2009 US Domestic Migration

The big story for 2009 migration was the decline of geographic mobility. Immigration should dominate the 2010 headlines. The Associated Press is offering its own analysis of US domestic migration and published some interesting results:

"People who move tend to be younger and have lower incomes," said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. "Normally, if there is a big influx of young people, that could pull down the income of an area and if there is a big outflux of young people that can raise income in an area."

That appears to have happened in Collier County, Fla., which lost households to larger Florida communities such as Fort Myers and Miami as construction jobs and tourism jobs faded away in 2007 and 2008. But Collier County gained $729 million in total income from new, wealthier residents moving from suburban Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and Long Island.

The same thing happened at the state level. Florida, New Hampshire and Vermont lost households but gained income.

Both Florida and Vermont got income boosts from New York and New Jersey, just as Florida lost households to Georgia, and Vermont lost residents to North Carolina.

New Hampshire got an income boost from Massachusetts as it lost households to Florida.

The reverse was true for a handful of states. Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia and West Virginia gained population but lost income from 2007 to 2008, indicating that wealthier residents left and poorer ones moved in.

I note a shift in focus from quantity to quality of migration. In terms of policy, the additional variable is welcome news. Shrinking cities (e.g. Pittsburgh) that are gaining income and raising educational attainment of the population often fly under the radar. Actual brain gain remains hidden from view.

Apropos of the financial crisis, the additional numbers can reveal migration bubbles (i.e. gains in households, decreasing income). Not all migration gains are equal:

"It's an interesting time right now because we're gaining population," said LSU sociologist Tony Blanchard. "However you have to look under the numbers and temper the excitement some because ... while we're gaining people in terms of bodies ... the average education of the population through this net migration is going down."

Population is going up along with the brain drain. The simple net-migration narrative completely misses this important piece of economic development. Such data do more to obfuscate than illuminate. I should take my own advice. The situation in Florida isn't as bad I thought it was. More brain drain hysteria and I swallowed it whole.

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