Older college-educated workers mitigate brain drain

Posted Feb. 01, 2009, at 7:34 p.m.

Maine loses younger college-educated workers to other states. Census data show that about 10,000 college-educated workers in their 20s who lived in Maine in 1995 had migrated to other states by the year 2000. This exceeds the approximately 5,000 college-educated workers in their 20s who lived elsewhere in the U.S. in 1995 and had migrated to Maine by the year 2000. This net loss of about 5,000 young college-educated workers constitutes a brain drain for Maine.

However, the same census data also show that Maine’s migration exchange with other states over the period 1995-2000 was on balance a positive one for older college-educated workers age 30 to 65. About 18,000 college-educated workers age 30 to 65 who lived elsewhere in the U.S. in 1995 resided in Maine in 2000. In con-trast, only about 12,000 such workers who lived in Maine in 1995 were residing in other states in 2000. This net gain of about 6,000 older college-educated workers constitutes a brain gain for Maine.

Setting Maine’s brain gain of 6,000 older college-educated workers against its brain loss of 5,000 younger college-educated workers produces a net brain gain of 1,000 college-educated workers for Maine. So, migration exchanges between Maine and the rest of the U.S. between 1995 and 2000 produced a net brain gain for Maine.

Earlier census data covering the period 1985-1990 also reveal a net brain gain for Maine through migration exchanges with other U.S. states. Specifically for this earlier period, the net loss of nearly 2,000 younger college-educated workers was more than offset by a net gain of more than 9,000 older college-educated workers leading to a net brain gain of more than 7,000. Moreover, the most recent migration data for 2000-2005 show a similar pattern of net brain gain. Offsetting a net loss of almost 8,000 younger college-educated workers is a net gain of nearly 10,000 older college-educated workers resulting in a net brain gain of about 2,000.

Concerns about the net loss of younger college-educated workers are in part mitigated by the more than offsetting net gains of older college-educated workers 30 to 65 years old. Moreover older workers have on average more accumulated work experience than younger workers; and so the advantage is not only in numbers of workers but also in productivity. Finally, the achievement of a college education by young adults substantially increases their economic opportunities and many will find that their best opportunities are in other states. People-oriented policies such as increasing the access to and quality of higher education advance the goal of ex-panding individual opportunities and lead to higher geographic mobility.

The ability of Maine to continue to more than offset the impact of this higher geographic mobility of educated young adults through relatively high net brain gains of older college-educated workers depends largely on economic opportunity and quality of life in Maine. Economic opportunity includes job growth and after-tax wages. Quality of life encompasses the richness of cultural goods such as performing, visual, and literary arts produced in local venues, museums and historical sites; and the existence of relatively safe, environmentally healthy, and uncongested living places and natural areas.

The fact that Maine has had net brain gains through its migration exchanges with other states strongly suggests that economic opportunity and quality of life in Maine have enhanced its competitiveness for college-educated workers more than its climate and geographical situation may have limited it. Continued implementation of thoughtful place-oriented policies can advance Maine’s economic opportunity and quality of life and keep it competitive in the interstate exchange of college-educated workers.

Gary L. Hunt is a professor of economics at the University of Maine. This is the second of four weekly columns on subjects covered in the University of Maine’s Building a Vibrant Maine Economy online conference. To view the conference, visit www.umaine.edu/vme.

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