The Southern Migration of Educated Workers

educated_workersby James A. Bacon

In a knowledge economy, the educational level of the workforce is a key driver of metropolitan prosperity. Higher education levels, especially in the fields of business, science and the arts, are associated with greater innovation, entrepreneurial activity and wealth creation. A half century ago, the distribution of brain power in the United States was highly lopsided, favoring the West Coast and Northeast. But, as Joel Kotkin points out in a column today in New Geography, the geography of workforce education has shifted.

States that were the most educated in 1970 still rank among the brainiest states today. But the education gap has narrowed as a steady migration of educated workers to the Sun Belt has lifted the education levels of Southern states in particular. States like New York and Massachusetts have not lifted their averages nearly as rapidly as many other states.

“There’s a movement of educated people — critical to many industries — to formerly backwater states,” writes Kotkin. “Over time jobs, too, are following this path. In the years ahead we can expect these trends to continue or even accelerate.”

Virginia stands in an interesting position nationally. It is one of the few states that ranked among the best educated 50 years ago and has also has been one of the bigger brain gainers.

Virginia ranked 13th in the country for growth in the education level of its population, according to Kotkin.

  • Increase in population of college grads: 517%
  • Percentage of population with college degree (1970): 12.3%
  • Percentage of population with college degree (2013): 36.1%

I would love to drill deeper on this data but lack the means to do so, at present. Conceptually, we need to be looking at two distinct phenomena: (1) the state’s ability to educate its children and young people, in effect, to grow our own educated workforce; and (2) the ability of metropolitan regions to recruit and retain educated workers, which entails an entirely different set of issues.

States such as New York and Massachusetts churn out a lot of workers with college degrees but, for whatever reason, are unable to employ them all. Many emigrate in search of better job opportunities and/or higher standards of living.

With a few exceptions, I don’t see many people in Virginia doing much more than mouthing platitudes — spend more money to educate more young people, regardless of the supply and demand for different types of degrees. We need to move the discussion to a higher level. More on that in the next blog post.

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15 responses to “The Southern Migration of Educated Workers

  1. To start off, as I always say, Joel Kotkin is a pundit who always introduces his biases into a discussion. I typically Joel Kotkin;dr because it’s about as easy to figure out what he’ll say as it is to figure out whether Fox News will be favorable or unfavorable towards Obama on a story.

    This story reinforces by own views of Kotkin. He makes a grandiose statement, but when looking into the data it shows that this is a matter of percent of change. And obviously places that have always been geared to an educated work force will have a smaller delta as a percentage as those that did really piss poor previously (cough the south). So one could say, the south is finally starting to catch up, but still has major gaps, but one can not say that there is a brain drain, or migration of brain power to the south (that’s not supported by the actual details).

    • I agree with TE here.. you read what Kotkin claims then find the data does not comport .. so I’m writing him off as a un-biased source at this point.

      not the first time I found his narrative and cherry-picked data at odds with basic facts.

      • If I may speak frank, he’s a damned idiot. I’ve never a single thing he’s written that given 5 minutes of research couldn’t have a valid counter argument that at a minimum competed with his assertion.

  2. from the folks at ALEC: ( not hardly some lefty liberal group):

    Report Card on American Education: State Education Rankings

    Education Rankings By State

    Massachusetts <— no surprises for top 10 and many are "union"
    New Jersey
    New Hampshire
    North Carolina <– first true Southern State 16th and better than New York
    Rhode Island
    New York
    District of Columbia
    Virginia <— 26th
    New Mexico
    North Dakota
    Mississippi <– 43 from here down – mostly right-to-work states
    Alabama <- 44
    Louisiana <– 48
    South Dakota
    West Virginia
    South Carolina <- 51

    • Thanks for the static snapshot, Larry. Unfortunately, this list has no explanatory power whatsoever. You need to look at the relative changes in education levels in order to identify the drivers.

      Also, if you’re using this list to puncture what Kotkin is saying, you have to explain the difference between ALEC’s metrics (which you usually disaparage) and Kotkin’s metrics to ensure that you’re comparing apples with apples.

      • the stuff he is looking at is more “noise” than anything else – and is at odds with the overall context.

        this is what happens when you grab something fairly small and use it to rank .. it comes up wrong.

        ALECs ratings are pretty much in line with other organizations ratings left and right and not concurrent with the larger body of data.

        Kotkin is trying to claim some kind of an emerging pattern and it don’t wash for me.

        The academic performance scores of those lower states is abysmal and long standing and what would convince me is if he used that data to show which states have actually showed pattern changes AND moved up the rankings.

        he’s not only not doing apples to apples – he’s doing mirco-berries to grapefruit …

        • Larry, your ability to ignore the main thrust of my blog posts and focus on minutiae is simply breathtaking. Do you deny (a) that the educational gap between states is narrowing, and (b) that a big reason is the migration of educated workers from one state to another?

          But even your focus on the minutiae goes seriously astray. Nowhere does Kotkin defend, much less advocate, the educational policies of the low-education states. You have created a straw man. You are tilting at windmills that exist only in your mind.

      • Why should we look at relative change as a percentage. That makes no sense. Southern states were completely bass-akwards for most of the 20th century… therefore it’s not shocking that given internet age which has forced biblethumpers to actually admit certain parts of science and history, that education has improved faster in those areas (which were so far behind). That doesn’t mean there is a “migration” of brain power, it just means that the south is finally coming out of the stone age.

        • T.E., There is irrefutable evidence that there is net migration of population from Northern states to Southern states. Just look at the IRS migration data.

          As a general rule, better educated workers are more mobile and likely to relocate than less educated workers. The overwhelming evidence suggests that there is a brain drain from North to South. Why would you even bother to dispute this?

          Perhaps I should ask you this. Where were you born, raised and educated? Why did you move to Northern Virginia? Do you not personify the trend that I’m talking about?

          • re: false narratives..

            “it’s not shocking that given internet age which has forced biblethumpers to actually admit certain parts of science and history, that education has improved faster in those areas (which were so far behind). That doesn’t mean there is a “migration” of brain power, it just means that the south is finally coming out of the stone age.”

            Jim – why would any self respecting tech company go to the south looking for workers that are not there natively and expect people from the better educated states to “migrate” there?

            what kind of sense does that make?

            no self respecting millennial is going to trade Austin Texas or Seattle Wash for a bible-thumping godforsaken summer hell hole that thinks civilization is a liberal conspiracy theory – for a job. Jesus.

          • Tysons Engineer

            Its absolutely refutable when you consider RETIREMENT vs WORKING AGE migration and net birth/population. Just because a lot of new yorkers stereotypically retire somewhere warm does not a brain drain make.

            As far as me personally, I’ve always lived in Fairfax Virginia (I know, I am an irregularity in that matter). Northern Virginia =/= south by any measure including that of the civil war when most of NOVA was still either Union or at a minimum embattled as part of the north. It also never shakes out when considering classical definitions of the agrarian south and manufacturing north (see the change from cash crops to wheat/urbanizing farm lands via Alexandria in the 18th century).

  3. Where would Virginia and Maryland be absent Uncle Sam’s spending, regulating and legislating?

    RTW states
    New Jersey
    Indiana RTW
    New Hampshire
    Florida RTW
    Nevada RTW
    North Carolina RTW
    Rhode Island
    Texas RTW
    New York
    Kansas RTW
    Wyoming RTW
    District of Columbia
    Georgia RTW
    Tennessee RTW
    Utah RTW
    Virginia RTW
    Iowa RTW
    New Mexico
    Idaho RTW
    Nebraska RTW
    North Dakota RTW
    Michigan RTW
    Oklahoma RTW
    Mississippi RTW
    Alabama RTW
    Arkansas RTW
    Arizona RTW
    Louisiana RTW
    South Dakota RTW
    West Virginia
    South Carolina RTW

  4. how does that explain the wretched performance of the southern states?

    remember – these are the folks who are pretty much opposed to academic standards and seem to prefer private schools and home schooling – like Virginia did at one time.

    Oh – and apparently they have a ton of “bad teachers” despite their RTW rules.

  5. Florida and Texas have surpassed New York in population. Because of Wall Street, NYC will always remain a key world economic center. But the rest of the state is fairly week economically – hence Cuomo’s program of ten years’ tax benefits.

    Actually, I think Texas would be a good model for VA to emulate. Texas has sufficiently diversified its economy beyond Oil and Gas, such that the State sees lower oil prices as being a net win for the state economy. McAuliffe seems to understand the need for economic diversification, but so have all other recent governors. Not sure his results will be much different.

    I like DJR’s idea of focusing on ODU, VCU and George Mason. And maybe VA Tech might pull a Wake Forest and, over time, relocate much of its operations to a larger community than Blacksburg. (I’m serving on a regional transportation committee with a VA Tech professor who lives in D.C. and goes to Blacksburg only when necessary.)

  6. the other data from ALEC that I did not show was called ” Education Policy Grade” and it had criteria:

    1. State Academic Standards

    English and Language Arts
    2. Private School Choice Programs

    “A” Grade or Multiple programs
    3. Charter Schools

    Charter Schools Allowed
    Charter School Law Grade
    4. Teacher Quality

    Delivering Well Prepared Teachers
    Expanding the Teaching Pool
    Identifying Effective Teachers
    Retaining Effective Teachers
    Exiting Ineffective Teachers
    5. Online Learning

    Multi-District, Full-time Online School
    Digital Learning Now! Metrics Achieved
    6. Home School Regulation Burdens

    but then I got to thinking a little as to WHY ALEC and other groups RATE public schools, advocate for non-public schools but don’t advocate for
    standards and performance assessment of the non-public schools.

    so why is that?

    I’d think at the least – the groups that are holding the public schools feet to the fire on performance and evaluating teachers would also want to hold accountable the non-public schools in the same way – to demonstrate that they actually achieve what the advocacy is purporting that they do.

    Further – groups like ALEC could actually set up some demonstration, pilot schools as models for best practices for better, more cost effective, better academic performance – alternatives.

    Nothing would shake the public school institutions to their core than real alternative schools – judged the same way public schools are – that demonstrate they are indeed superior…

    nothing would evoke more profound changes in the current public school approach that a direct challenge that clearly demonstrates it’s better.

    so why is it that ALEC and allied groups never take that step or for that matter don’t even subject their non-public schools to the same fiscal and academic performance assessments?

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