Friday, July 29, 2011

Brain Gain Louisville And Pittsburgh

Disaggregating the data is a hot trend in the brain drain discussion. On Wednesday, I explored a sophisticated piece of journalism about the demographic challenges facing Kansas. Today, readers of the Courier-Journal entertain brain gain in Louisville, Kentucky:

The population gains in that group may be a result of younger workers taking the jobs of a gradually retiring workforce, state demographer Michael Price of the Kentucky State Data Center suspects.

“We're swapping new, more educated workers for older workers,” Price said.

That shift gets lost in the overall population numbers. The shrinking cities paradigm is taking hold. Quality trumps quantity, not that there is anything wrong with growth. The article about Louisville stresses the unexpected data turnaround. The region is on the upswing.

The demographic story in Pittsburgh has long been that college graduates leave once their schooling is finished, causing a demographic ditch where the 25-35 year olds ought to be – but the data from the 2010 Census proves that there has been a dramatic spike in twentysomethings in Pittsburgh. Even as Pittsburgh’s overall population declined by a little more than 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010, due mostly to the city’s oldest cohorts dying out, the cohort of 20 to 29-year olds increased by some 12,000 people.

Essentially, what state demographer Michael Price observes in Louisville is also happening in Pittsburgh. But will the cohort bump stick around? Look at the chart associated with the cityLAB blog post. The twentysomething gains look to be entirely college student in-migration. Analysis from the UCSUR supports this hypothesis. Over the decade in question, college enrollment has boomed. More importantly, a greater share of the student population comes from outside Pennsylvania.

College graduates are notoriously fickle concerning residence. They are typically here today and gone tomorrow. However, not all of them will leave. Eventually, even Pittsburgh's population will benefit from importing students. But voters don't have the patience for the pace of demographic change:

The UK minister appearing before the select committee thinks that more open immigration rules means a failure to create incentives for employers, government, colleges or universities to provide the necessary training and education for those from closer to home.

And of course, there is a big incentive to universities and colleges to attract more non-EU students for their higher fee levels.

So could a more liberal approach to visas, foreign students and immigration merely allow employers off the hook of responsibility for training?

The cynicism stems from decades of brain drain boondoggles. Selling policy as talent retention and attraction should have some political risk. The results, quite frankly, stink. But the gambit remains effective. Institutions of higher education must make a better case that what is good for them is good for the host community. That requires different thinking about the geographic mobility of talent. We have a long way to go on that score.

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