Sunday, April 19, 2009

Michigration Watch

(Via The Urbanophile) I must admit that I find the coverage of the Michigan brain drain crisis fascinating. Journalists feed the hysteria, instead of informing their readers of the challenge before them. The title of this Detroit News article is "Retain grads, experts warn":

"If Michigan doesn't have sufficient human capital, we will not recover when this recession ends," said Don Grimes, senior research specialist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

The report, written by Grimes and Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., is the second annual assessment of how Michigan is moving from a low-education economy dependent on high-paying factory and automotive jobs to a broadly diversified knowledge-based economy focused on more than making cars and trucks.

Michigan Future promotes the belief that until the state can attract a growing pool of educated workers who can attract new businesses, the state will lag the nation for years to come as auto jobs pay less or disappear altogether. ...

... How to attract -- or keep -- college graduates and educated workers should be the No. 1 issue for the state, including the next gubernatorial election, Glazer added. Not only because of the loss to the current pool of workers, but because those who've left will raise the next generation of Michigan workers elsewhere.

Keep? Nonsense. The latest report from Michigan Futures highlights the geographic mobility of college educated talent:

What stands out is the difference between college educated and non college educated movers. First college educated adults are about 27 percent of the population, but are about 38 percent of the movers. Second they move to different places. Except for Hartford and New Orleans, the high prosperity metropolitan areas are places that are substantially adding to already large concentrations of college educated adults. And in most cases college educated movers account for more than half of their net in migration. In metro New York, Washington, Boston as well as Chicago and Pittsburgh – all of which did well in attracting college educated adults – there was a net out migration of non college educated adults.

Retaining graduates can help to increase the concentration of knowledge workers. That's obvious. But the main thrust is attracting talent, attracting business. The newspaper headline feeds the common misperception that stemming the exodus of young professionals from the state is mission critical. At the very least, attraction strategies deserve equal billing.

The Detroit media is on the defensive:

"Have you EVER wrote a positive article," asked Joe Plonka.

"Sure," I replied. "Many times. S'pose I could mount a cheer and say this whole debacle is not the fault of anyone in leadership, that the Big Mitten is just one big camp for economic victims. But that wouldn't be true, would it? I live here, too. I'm a homeowner and a parent, too. Our daughter will leave for college and prolly never return to MI except for breaks and holidays. How, exactly, does it help the public debate to ignore some of the reasons why all of that is? It doesn't. And until the MI electorate and their policy-makers fess up to the reality that they've made a lot of bad choices, not much is gonna change."

How does it help the public debate to misrepresent the problem? Over the last 3 years, I've consumed a great deal of the brain drain coverage around the country and around the world. Very rare is the article that avoids the out-migration mythology and actually advances the policy discussion. Homeowner and parent first, journalist second. That's too bad.

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