Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brain Drain: New Jersey

Is talent mostly coming or going? New Jersey isn't sure:

Star-Ledger readers recently were confronted with seemingly contradictory assertions about the consequences of the domestic migration patterns that affect NJ. The contradiction appeared in two articles on the same front-page of the "New Jersey" section. One story reported on an alleged "brain DRAIN" that NJ is experiencing. The other story reported on a "brain GAIN."

The author of the above article goes on to describe how the misunderstood issue of brain drain is used to sell tax payers on some new program or initiative:

NJ's public higher education community uses the "brain drain" argument to advocate for policies that they insist will encourage more NJ residents to choose NJ schools. ...

... The report's touting of brain gain was a pathetic attempt to justify state government policies that have made NJ an unattractive place to live and an undesirable place for businesses to expand and locate.

I very rarely see such a nuanced understanding of talent migration reported in the popular press. The picture is complicated, which is all the more reason to approach policy formation carefully. Weekly, I read stories about states and cities throwing money at a red herring.

Blogging about this issue for over two years, I've learned how difficult it is to piece together the nature of the problem. I am confident that the brain drain hysteria plaguing Pittsburgh is unfounded, but the labor market is confusing and full of contradictions. For example, just because job creation is anemic does not mean that there isn't a talent shortage. I also have no doubt that a region or state can experience both brain drain and brain gain. Just looking at different sectors of the economy would make that perspective obvious. Unfortunately, our leadership is failing to present us with these numbers.

No comments: