Thursday, January 21, 2010

Geographic Immobility

Why not stay where you are and invest in your hometown as it has invested in you? Let's stop the rural brain drain one educated person at a time. The benefits of stemming the tide are obvious. Educational attainment equals prosperity. In Northeast Ohio, that message is loud and clear:

Better education translates into better jobs, and ultimately, a better economy, added Barb Ewing, economic development director for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio.

“When companies look to locate or relocate, one of the first things they want to know is how high the level of educational attainment is in the community,” she said. “If we can’t provide that, then they’re not going to come here.”

The region will invest more resources into the education of its citizens. No child, even those on the wrong side of the tracks, will be left behind. Youngstown is a good example of the problem in terms of economic geography:

The researcher also noted that population has actually trended upward in the city -- rising from 60,000 according to the 2000 Census to about 65,000 in 2008, she said. At the same time, there has been a “continued decline” in the area’s suburban population in the later years of the decade, due possible to factors including out-migration of people with higher incomes. “So the number of poor just continues to go up as a percentage of the total population,” she said.

Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said the Brookings report really didn’t show anything that was surprising. “If we look at the economy and you read that article, you realize that you’re not alone,” he said.

The chamber has attempted to take a regional approach to issues such as education, a key element for attaining higher per capita incomes, over the past several years, Humphries said.

Better education results in higher per capita incomes. And higher incomes allow more people to flee the suburbs, yielding a greater concentration of poverty. It is an ironic outcome to a noble policy goal.

Getting high-flyers to stay put is a tall order. Working against any economic migration flow (e.g. Mexico-to-US) is usually an exercise in futility. The World Bank report I've been touting over the last few months recommends leveraging the trends instead of fighting them. The epiphany comes after decades of trying to plug the brain drain while bolstering educational attainment in the most impoverished countries.

"I think that, for at least a generation, parents have consigned themselves to the supposed inevitability that their children must leave the city for college and life," said Ms. Heidelbaugh, a lawyer. ...

... That doesn't just happen here. It happens everywhere. There is plenty of data that suggests we in Pittsburgh don't lose our young people to a degree greater than most places. We just don't attract the migrants, native and foreign, to replace our departing youth the way other metro areas do.

But it is the attitude and the expectation that Ms. Heidelbaugh says are different here. In her native St. Louis -- a city that has lost even more population than Pittsburgh, going from its 1950 peak of 857,000 to an estimated 371,000 today -- people don't resign themselves to the necessity of children leaving, she said.

In terms of out-migration, St. Louis isn't all that different from Pittsburgh. In many respects, the two cities are long lost cousins. Perhaps the attitude is different, but the results are similar. The problem is one of attraction, not retention. Some research published in 2003:

Policies designed to keep rural area college graduates "home" when they would be better off someplace else are clearly inefficient from society's point of view. However, strategies to attract experienced college-educated workers may not be. The current debate over brain drain overlooks the possibility that individuals' reasons for moving and their preferences for certain locations may change with age. Younger people move to take advantage of school and job opportunities. However, as people marry, have children, and acquire job experience, they may choose to relocate for "quality of life" reasons. There is little information about the motivations and choices of "reverse" migrants opting to relocate in mid-life. Policy makers should be concerned about the supply of all educated workers not just young educated workers.

I would welcome this kind of attitude adjustment. I would also hope that the afflicted communities would become more aware of what has been tried. Considering funding a bigger and better internship program to retain talent? Speak with representatives of the Scottish government first:

The business community is furious about the decision and careers officers at universities are outraged by the scrapping of Graduates for Business (GFB), which had a high success rate over the last decade helping graduates find a career, for a saving of just £1 million over three years. Some fear it could lead to a brain-drain of Scottish talent to England or abroad.

Scottish Enterprise (SE) mounted a strong defence of its decision on the basis that the internship scheme was not delivering the expected benefits in terms of turnover and job creation, and the Scottish Government said it was a decision for it.

There appears to be more to the story than SE is publicly stating. But to claim that GFB stemmed brain drain is disingenuous. This business community should be more forthcoming about why it is "furious". I doubt that we would find that a double or triple bottom line is in peril as some have claimed.

Trying to encourage young talent to stay is in no one's best interest.

1 comment:

David said...

There was a program in Youngstown focused on education called the "Youngstown Early College." I think the program was recently canceled.

It was interesting to learn that the population of the actual city has had an uptick, I would have expected the downward trend to continue.

I'd be really interested to know where these out-migrants from the Youngstown MSA went.