Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Talent Migration: Rust Belt Brain Drain

While I condemn policies designed to keep talent from leaving a region, brain drain is real. Places with a negative net migration of college graduates qualify. However, the local production of talent may render that deficit moot. We should also disaggregate the numbers to figure out if the issue is inmigration or outmigration. We could also look at different demographic cohorts to get a better handle on emerging trends.

How the data play out in the press is confusing. Convenient narratives (i.e. clich├ęs) get in the way of useful analysis. Still, the facts tell an important story:

The movement of African-Americans has also shifted the distribution of the college-educated black population. In 2009 the metro area with the largest share of college-educated blacks was Washington D.C., just ahead of San Jose, Calif., which had the largest share in 2000.

San Jose, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, saw its share of African-Americans with college degrees fall as the state bled residents over the decade. Atlanta, Raleigh and Nashville, Tenn., were all among the top five cities with the largest share of 25-and-over blacks with college degrees.

Several big northern cities have fallen down on the list of cities with the highest concentration of black college graduates, though in many cases their concentration of college-educated blacks has grown as more Americans of all races have graduated from college. In 2000, for instance, the Boston metro area had the nation's sixth-highest concentration of college-educated blacks. In 2009 the city was fifteenth among big metro areas. In Youngstown, Ohio, the metro area lost 12.3% of its black college graduates from 2000-2009, compared with a 3.2% decrease in 25-and-over blacks overall.

Conor Dougherty of the Wall Street Journal is keen to point out that the Sun Belt is gaining at the expense of the Rust Belt. Are the bulk of black college graduates leaving Boston and Youngstown heading for Atlanta and Raleigh? A lot is left to the imagination. Regardless, the loss of black talent in Youngstown is stunning and scary. If I'm writing for the WSJ, that's where I investigate. Dougherty's anecdote about the Princeton professor moving to New Orleans (the biggest loser of African-Americans from 2000-2009) is a head-scratcher.

Among the top 10 metropolitan areas with the fastest average net growth in the number of arrivals with college degrees between 2007 and 2009, seven were in the south and southwest, including Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., according to an analysis of Census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

The new data mirror the trend in recent years of the South outpacing other parts of the nation in both migration and population growth.

Some shifts in the migration of individuals with bachelor's degrees are difficult to explain. The growth could reflect college-educated workers stuck in a particular area, Mr. Frey said, rather than lured elsewhere by better job prospects. The Census data measure the net number of migrants to and from metro areas. That means that in some cases growth reflects that fewer people are leaving than in the past—which could occur if workers are stuck in underwater mortgages or unable to relocate for other reasons.

Meanwhile, a city with a major university, such as Austin, Texas, is likely to have lured workers as well as retained more graduates who couldn't find work elsewhere.

I hope Brookings publishes Frey's findings. I'm curious to see how the recession is affecting talent migration. The five metros bleeding college graduates the fastest:

  1. Detroit
  2. Orlando
  3. Cleveland
  4. Rochester
  5. New York

It's difficult to get a read on the situation without disaggregating the data. I'm anxious to find out how Pittsburgh fared. I suspect well, but that's a guess. I'd also like to know where the talent is going for each metro. Digesting Dougherty's two articles, the situation in Cleveland is dire.

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