Playing With Numbers — Rust Belt Millennials Edition

Source: Planetizen.com

(Update: now with quality tables and charts!  Thanks to Alex from nextSTL.com. -Pete)

Last week, a couple of Illinois state legislators spoke out about their idea to seek “Big Ten” status for a second public university in Illinois.  Their rationale?  Selective admissions and high tuition at the University of Illinois, the state’s public Big Ten school, are causing students to select other schools out of state.  They want to push an existing public university, like Illinois State in Bloomington, to upgrade its academic profile to keep talented kids from leaving the state.  From the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Indiana, Iowa, … they come swooping in, and they’re taking some of our really talented kids out of the state — and sometimes for good,” Connelly said. “So there’s a talent drain that is there, as well.”

That was State Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Lisle.  He’s wrong.

If State Sen. Connelly is concerned about the economic impact of so-called “brain drain”, his concern is misplaced.  In my estimation, where you go to school matters little; where you end up after school matters more.  And contrary to what most people think, most Rust Belt metros, the economic engines of the Midwest, are doing OK growing their young adult populations.  They could do better, through greater attraction, but actual brain drain is rare.

I looked at American Community Survey data between 2005 and 2012 for the ten largest metros in the Midwest (at least as I’ve defined the region).  I wanted to find out how these metros performed in gaining young adults over that span — the key 25-34 demographic of young adults who, presumably after acquiring a college degree, are looking to settle down and contribute as working adults.  I looked at the net growth of yonng adults over that timeframe, and compared it to population change for the entire metro area.  Here’s what I found:

Here it shows that seven of the top ten Midwest metros are growing that critical demographic at rates higher than the national average, and well above that for the Midwest region.  In fact, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are showing accelerated growth among young adults despite having an overall slow-growth environment, and Minneapolis/St. Paul shows even stronger young adult growth in a relatively strong growth environment.  Cleveland is growing its young adult population despite decreasing overall.  Only Indianapolis, Columbus and Detroit fail to meet the national average, with only Detroit losing young adults faster than it’s losing population overall.  How does this look in a chart?

Numerous caveats apply here.  This looks at net growth, first of all, and does not delve into the subtleties of migration.  This doesn’t take into account differences in birthrates between metros.  Not all metros are growing college-educated young adults equally, even if they grow more young adults absolutely.  Also, if I had more time I’d establish a ratio for metro areas separate from the national rate, and the results might look a little different.

Using this metric, two Rust Belt metros appear to be doing exceptionally well, five appear to be doing OK, and three are lagging.  Detroit’s troubles are well known, and it was not a surprise to find it as the metro losing young adults.  However, I’d be especially concerned if I were in Indy or Columbus, who don’t seem to be keeping pace with young adults compared to the others.  This seems particularly odd for Columbus, which is the home of one of the nation’s largest public universities, Ohio State University.  But that may simply be a case of the university being a pump that attracts teens from around Ohio and spits out young adults to the rest of the country at an exceedingly high rate.

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