A few weeks ago, a study out of Portland State University crowned our city as tops in attracting and retaining young, college-educated adults.
For real? Louisville? The same city that’s fretted over brain drain for years? But look, proof that the hemorrhaging has ceased, right there on page 17 of the study. Louisville’s outranking one of the hippest, most progressive cities in the U.S.! Take that, Portland.
Sound too good to be true? Well, yes and no.
Michael Price, Kentucky’s state demographer, helped put this study into perspective. Price has studied similar trends for the Greater Louisville Project, a nonprofit civic organization that releases annual “Competitive City” reports.
First, one must understand the demographic effectiveness index researchers Jason Jurjevich and Greg Schrock used to rank metro areas.
In elementary terms, it’s based on the ratio of net migration (people in minus people out) to total migration (ins plus outs).
“It implies that if that ratio is high then the net migration is close to the total migration so the negative factor — the out migration — is low,” says Price.
Researchers used U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2000 Census and American Community Surveys from 2005-2007 and 2008-2010 to compare migration patterns in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas. (Though this study primarily focuses on Portland’s trends.)
Louisville’s metro area ranked 11 in 2005-07 and No. 1 in 2008-10 among large metros.
However, net migration totals were not impressive. When you look at the table above, we actually gained the least total number of young, smart (wildly coveted) 25-39 year olds.
But hell, we kept them! They didn’t move away. That’s worth celebrating. Price agrees in the last few years it appears Louisville’s “brain drain” has slowed.
A recently released 2012 Greater Louisville Project report supports this trend showing higher college attainment levels.
The report states: “An increase of over 8,000 young adults with Bachelor’s Degrees or higher between 2000 and 2010 has propelled Louisville into first place in the rate of improvement among its peer cities.”
(However, the report did not include just released 2011 American Community Survey data that would’ve dropped Louisville in the rankings.)
Anyway, back to the Portland State University Study.
Price says it’s important to consider the timing of our acceleration to first place — 2008-2010. During that time the economy tanked. While this is theorizing, it’s safe to assume that moving away from Louisville wasn’t an option for young, educated folks. The jobs were not out there. So, potential migrants stayed put. Migration slowed in all cities, of course, not just Louisville.
But these other metros, like Portland or San Francisco, also have a far greater pool of young educated folks who would potentially be on the move in search of affordable living or jobs. Hence, they rank below us.
“Could be that they didn’t have employment and they were moving back to Louisville,” Price jokes. “But most likely they were following jobs.”
That larger pool of educated young folks also means there’s more of a cushion if you do lose some.
Louisville still ranks relatively low in educational attainment overall. While around 30 percent of our population hold a two- or four-year college degree or higher, cities like Portland and Seattle are up around 40 percent.
Price says, “Slow improvement indicates that our local production of college-educated may be relatively low. Metro areas with high production of college-educated can afford to have them leave. We are definitely playing catch-up.”
So there it is. Louisville’s turning the tide on brain drain. But in the quest for young minds we’ve got a ways to go.