"To put it crudely, Washington, D.C., is parasitic on the rest of the country," said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. "Most of those people were educated somewhere else."Consider Matt Drury. The Syracuse, N.Y., native completed a master's in civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last spring. He would have been a welcome addition to the labor market in Pittsburgh, where 28.7 percent of adults hold bachelor's degrees. But he moved to the Washington area to join an environmental consulting firm that contracts with the federal government. He lives in Tysons Corner and works in Chantilly."It came down to choosing whether to stay in Pittsburgh or go to D.C.," said Drury, 24. "And basically, the job opportunity was better in D.C."
Drury's journey is an archetypal Pittsburgh talent migration tale. High school graduate from out of state gets college degree in the region and then heads to DC for his first job. This pathway has tremendously benefited Pittsburgh, a fast-rising metro in terms of educational attainment.
Unfortunately, the story typically ends there. What about the secondary migrations for the young adults who get married and start families? Aaron Renn cites some interesting statistics concerning the hysteria surrounding Miami-bound LeBron James:
James' departure also fits the narrative of generalized anxiety around “brain drain” and cities losing their best and brightest of each generation. As lots of people really have left Cleveland, this is understandable. But the real story is much more complex. A look at IRS tax return data shows that in reality Cleveland doesn't have especially high out-migration. Its metro out-migration rate* in 2008 was 28.02. Miami's was 40.34 and for even the boomtown of Atlanta it was 38.95. Not only is Cleveland not losing an especially high number of people, you can actually argue it is losing too few. A big part of the problem in Cleveland's economy is that too many people are stuck there. ...... * Tax return exemptions migrating per 1000 overall tax return exemptions in the base year.
We often ignore the talent outmigration tales of "parasites" such as Washington, DC. Not only does Pittsburgh send a lot of talent to DC, it receives (in bunches) brains from there. If a college graduate is going to leave the region, then I hope she ends up in DC. Odds are very good she will return. I'd be interested to know if migrants such as Drury boomerang back (if they do so at all) to Pittsburgh or Syracuse. That would be an interesting study.