Featured Indicator: Brain Drain! Where are the Educated Moving?

When regions talk about attracting and retaining jobs, not all jobs are created equally. It’s the high-paying jobs that require highly skilled, highly educated employees that are most coveted. But in order to attract these kinds of jobs, a region needs a workforce that can meet employers’ needs. This is a challenge for many regions who are experiencing a “brain drain” (or more formally, “human capital flight”) problem. Brain drain refers to the large-scale emigration of highly trained and educated people from a certain place, due to a lack of opportunities, low wages, and quality of life concerns. While the term is more commonly used to refer to this phenomenon at the national level, it is applicable sub-nationally, as well. For this month’s indicator, we take a look at Brain Drain at the state level and find out where America’s educated are moving.

According to 2013 ACS 1-year estimates data, about 4.2 million U.S. residents aged 25+ moved from one state to another within the previous year. This amounts to about 2.0% of the total 25+ population. Of those movers, about 42% held a bachelor’s degree or higher. (As a side note, only about 30% of the 25+ population holds at least a bachelor’s degree, indicating the educated are more likely to move.) There were 26 states (plus D.C.) that showed a net loss of bachelor’s degree holders over this period, compared to 24 that showed a net gain. New York was the biggest net loser in absolute terms, down 40,728 degree-holders between 2012 and 2013, followed by Illinois with 18,683 and Massachusetts with 14,147. The biggest net gainers were Texas and Florida, each netting about 27,000 degree-holders.

To adjust for overall population size, we’ll express these migration figures as rates per 1,000 population. Alaska had the highest out-migration rate by far, with a net loss of 61 degree-holders per 1,000 population. D.C. was second with a loss of 21 per 1,000, followed by New Mexico with 18 per 1,000. At the other end of the spectrum were Nevada, South Carolina, and Oregon, netting 17, 15, and 14 degree-holders per 1,000 population, respectively.

Displayed spatially, the data reveals a clear geographic pattern. The Rust Belt states of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest (stretching from New York to Iowa) are losing their educated residents to states in the Southeast and West.

Hover over individual states on the map above for details on net migration totals and rates for the degree-holding population and population overall. Generally, states that were net losers of degree-holders were also net losers of population overall (and vice versa). A notable exception was Wyoming, which showed a net gain of 13 degree-holders per 1,000, but lost 5 people per 1,000 overall.

Note that this data includes only state-to-state migration; it does not include people who emigrated to the U.S. from another country.

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