Great recession slows Midwest's "brain drain"

Jan 25, 2011

For much of the last decade, cities across our region have watched their recent college graduates flee to cities like Phoenix.

It what might be good news for our region, new census data show the recession has significantly changed where young people are moving.

People, especially people in their early twenties, go where the jobs are.

That’s why Michigan is so concerned about being the only state in the census to lose population

And cities like Cleveland and Detroit have been fretting about "brain drain" to other areas.

William Frey is a demographer with the Brookings Institution and the University of Michigan. He’s been looking at the new census data and says the great recession of the past few years has changed everything.

Frey says sunbelt cities like Phoenix, Riverside, California, and several Florida metropolitan areas no longer have cheap mortgages and plentiful jobs:

"We basically have seen these bubble places pop, I guess you could say."

So, with few opportunities elsewhere, many young people have decided to stay in the Midwest.

In Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo and Milwaukee, the number of young people leaving fell dramatically during the recession.

Pittsburgh stopped its losses altogether and actually had a slight net gain of young people moving in.

Even though Frey says many people may be living with their parents and waiting out the recession, he says this is an opportunity for these cities that have been trying for years to become more attractive to just these young workers:

"These areas do have a chance to show their stuff to these young people and to these college graduates. And maybe in some cases they’ll stay."

Since World War II, migration around the country has never been lower than it is now. Frey says this period is so unusual that it’s hard to make projections about the future.

He just hopes many of these young workers won’t have to live with their parents too much longer.