Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Great Recession Migration

I'm not the only one who takes exception to the Wendell Cox spin on domestic migration. Actually, the heart of the disagreement concerns the truly awful analysis offered up in the report, "Empire State Exodus". I've already weighed in on the matter, so I won't rehash that critique today. I'm more interested in Cox's assessment of Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania has been the subject of more than one “what’s wrong with Pennsylvania” report as analysts inside and out decry its competitive position. In fact, by the ultimate measure of competitiveness, where people choose to move to or from, Pennsylvania has done relatively well in the 2000s. Pennsylvania’s modest loss of 33,000 domestic migrants pales by comparison to the net 2.5 million people who have moved away from neighboring New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Ohio. Like Texas, Georgia and many other states, Pennsylvania largely missed the housing bubble, which probably accounts for some of this surprising phenomenon.

Net-migration is not the "ultimate measure of competitiveness". But that metric helps Cox sell his preferred policy narrative. It's mostly nonsense, but I'm sure the libertarian choir likes what he says. The irony is that a stronger regulatory environment is likely what prevented the housing bubble in PA. But I've already covered that issue a few months ago.

More to the point is an article in the Economist detailing America's declining geographic mobility:

A few bright spots have managed to attract mobile Americans. Texas and Oklahoma weathered the downturn better than most, thanks to strong local energy industries and the absence of a housing boom and bust. The same is true for the Washington, DC, area, where an all-but-recession-proof economy based on the federal government has already managed a return to pre-downturn output levels.

I would quibble with the analysis regarding the same sloppy use of net-migration that Cox likes to employ. A lot of valuable information and geographic variation gets lost in the aggregate. Regardless, the attraction to Texas and Oklahoma rings true enough. In fact, one could say the same thing about Pennsylvania in general and Pittsburgh in particular.

With the above fresh in your mind, now throw in some Null Space:

But here we are. 7.9% unemployment. Not great.. But a far cry from 10.0 nationally. A few factoids of note. As I have talked about in the past, for things like migration trends the 'relative' unemployment rate is probably more important than the absolute level. By my count this now makes it 38 continuous months that the Pittsburgh region's unemployment rate has been below the nations. Still not a record, there was a 38 month period between starting in January 1990 and a 40 month period starting in 1973. But in the early 1990's, the local unemployment rate was very marginally below the nation.. averaging 4/10ths of a percent below the nation. Over the previous 12 months, the local unemployment rate has averaged 1.7 percentage points below the nation.

Sustained relatively low unemployment, stable housing market, and strong local energy industries equal ... ?

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