Sunday, June 2, 2019

Richard Florida Looks at the Brain Drain Impact

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................"

According to an analysis by Richard Florida, of a new report by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, there is a brain drain of the most educated and smartest people, moving from parts of the country to other parts of the country, and it has been going on for decades, resulting in "a widening geographic divide between the winners and losers of the knowledge economy."

"The report uses U.S. Census data from 1940 to 2017, and focuses on highly educated people in their post-college and post-graduate-school years—people between the ages of 31 and 40 who are either “movers” or “leavers,” heading off to different states, or “stayers” who continue to live in their home state." 

Movement within America, according to Florida, is "a tale of two migrations: the skilled and educated “mobile” on the one hand and the less educated “stuck” on the other.  

"Gross brain drain is the simple difference between the share of leavers and share of stayers in a state (excluding people who move there). The biggest losers, as you might expect, span the Rust Belt, adjacent parts of the Great Plains, the South, and especially the Deep South, as well as Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire in New England. The winners are on the East and West Coasts, but they also include Texas and Colorado, as well as (perhaps more surprisingly) Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Kansas."
Bringing it all together, the best performers over the past three-quarters of a century are the states along the Boston–New York–D.C. corridor; on the West Coast; and Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawaii. States fared the worst, experiencing more brain drain, in parts of the Midwest, the Great Plains, New England, the Southeast, and especially the Deep South.  The geographic winners have only seen their advantages grow since 1970."

So what does this mean for us - for the nonprofit arts and the creative communities?  Clearly, this brain drain is largely posited in terms of a high tech and entrepreneurial frame.  But certainly such movement has implications for our sector in terms of:

  • The best and the brightest moving to certain places will make it harder to recruit, retain and benefit from that class of leadership for those areas where the "drain" is in play.  It will also make competition for perhaps scarce positions harder in the areas where the "gain' is more pronounced.  
  • A consequence of that movement may likely make it easier to raise funds in certain "gain" areas, and harder to raise funds and stay afloat in the "drain" areas, as the economies and the donor class of the former areas grow and thrive, and the latter areas contact and struggle.  
  • And that may mean that: 1. access to arts education continues to be much more prevalent in some areas than others; 2.  the audiences for performances and exhibitions may shrink in the have not areas; 3. donor support may shrink in those same areas, as wealth moves from the "drain" areas to the "gain" areas; and, 4. arts organizations in the thriving areas may fare better economically, and thus offer better wages and benefits, perhaps further compounding the problem and encourage even more of a drain on the have nots.  
As Florida concluded:

"This split geography of brain gain and brain drain poses huge implications not only for our economy, but also for American society and politics. Brain drain has significant consequences—economic, yes, but also political and cultural,” the report notes. “By increasing social segregation, it limits opportunities for disparate groups to connect. And by siphoning a source of economic innovation from emptying communities, brain drain can also lead to crumbling institutions of civil society. As those natives who have more resources leave, those left behind may struggle."

The same may be true for the arts.  Or not.

The is not completely dissimilar from Florida's Creative Class theory which took our sector by storm years ago.  Of course, our previous experience with Florida's theses has led us to a healthy skepticism as these kinds of "general" theories are qualified by a host of conditions and influences not necessarily readily apparent on the surface - and so we ought not to rush to hard conclusions too easily.   And, we must acknowledge that it is a bit of a conceit, somewhat arrogant and arguably insulting to cast those who do not qualify under this kind of thinking as the best and the brightest as the remainers.  To suggest that only college educated, entrepreneurial people are the "brains" we all want is myopic and short sighted - if not in many cases simply wrong.

Still, as the country continues to diversify and change on profound levels, at a heretofore unheard of pace, population shifts will become more the reality, including movement of the educated, entrepreneurial and creative cohorts as those groups are generally defined.  While this kind of movement is not likely to be wholesale nor will it be universal - it may well be substantial, and it may well occur rapidly. We can't really know presently how this trend will manifest itself, or what this trend will mean for us.  But we can recognize its potential, and consider its implications and ramifications now, so that if and when the trend does result in challenges, we will be better able and prepared to address them.  It may be a boom for some, and doom for others.

Have  great week.

Don't Quit