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Pennsylvania's brain drain outpaces its brain gain

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Can you feel it – the mingled excitement and dread in the air? That’s the vibe of thousands of college students looking forward to graduation and striving to find a job.

If you don’t feel it, try harder to tune in. If a significant portion of your livelihood depends on Pennsylvania’s economic strength, you should be feeling in your gut, too.

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being a top destination for students as well as being a top exporter of those same young people when it’s time for them to join the workforce. In other words, we do a great job of preparing them to be employees – who then want to take their skills and knowledge someplace else.

In 2012 (I couldn’t find more recent data), the Washington Post reported that almost twice as many out-of-state students came to Pennsylvania for higher education as residents who went out of state, ranking the commonwealth No. 1. Even when I was in college way back when, a noticeable number of my classmates were from New York, Ohio and New Jersey. (A lot from New Jersey, in fact – which this same article lists as the No. 1 net exporter of students.)

So it’s great we bring so much raw talent into the commonwealth. What an opportunity that represents for you when it’s time to recruit.

But wait a minute.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania has been a net exporter of people ages 20-29 for more than two decades. Zoom in a little more and look at just people with a bachelor’s degree or above, and the picture is similar. This article from last week, “America’s Brainpower Cities,” ranks Pittsburgh 30th and Philadelphia 18th in net population change for this demographic.

Without drilling down into the numbers, both these pictures admittedly are a little fuzzy. Not all young people have college degrees; not all people with college degrees are young; and not all critical, good-paying jobs require college degrees, though you could argue they require new workers, i.e., young people.

But with the number of excellent schools we have in Pennsylvania that, clearly, are attracting students, why can’t we capture more of graduates?

What do New Orleans (1), San Antonio (2), Louisville (5), Salt Lake City (8) and Baltimore (14) have that Pennsylvania doesn’t? Or Rochester, N.Y. (15) or Minneapolis-St.Paul (21)? It can’t be just a question of climate or cosmopolitan lifestyle, or everyone would be flocking to Jacksonville (9) and Los Angeles (38).

Until Pennsylvania’s employers figure that out, we’re going to continue watching all those good ideas, state-of-the-art skills and fresh perspectives slip through our fingers.

The week ahead

With the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood challenge to provisions of Obamacare pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, a lot of people are thinking more about where the line is between personal freedom and constitutional safeguards when it comes to religion. Reporters Heather Stauffer and John Hilton team up to look at some critical legal and practical questions that come into play when business owners decide to make faith a key element of their operations.

The Inside Business focus is the business of retirement and eldercare, with lists on retirement care and on personal care and assisted living facilities.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

Not every college grad goes into the workforce, of course. Some stay in school and go after that next degree, some are lucky enough to kick back and travel the world for a while, and some switch gears to run their very own businesses. Here’s a cool chart on what it takes to start a successful business while you’re still in college.



Dick said:
I got my BS in Indiana (the state) and have lived on the East Shore for 33 years. What is obvious over that time (and I knew coming here) was that Pennsylvania has one of the top populations of older citizens. I accept this, and moved here for the close proximity to cities.

It is also obvious that PA is among the slowest of states to change, a good and bad thing. I have worked in industry and higher ed, and (as you can conclude from the article) PA does a good job with higher ed (as an industry) in attracting customers (students). We residents pay for these "customers" (one of the highest public school tuition rates in the country) , and lose our investment when they leave (to work elsewhere).

So, unless you aspire to work in (or with) government or higher ed (and have no change aspirations), why should you want to stay here? This area is very ripe for change - it would be great if PA could elect a Steve Reed-type governor that can see this opportunity (and not leverage the financial stability of the state in the process).

April 7, 2014 12:51 pm

Audrey said:
This article actually poses the question "Until Pennsylvania’s employers figure that out, we’re going to continue watching all those good ideas, state-of-the-art skills and fresh perspectives slip through our fingers."?? Personally, what employer would want to move his business here, which means bringing their employees here, to pay the exorbitant school property taxes that homes owners are burdened with, along with what the business would also have to pay? When are our members in the PA Congress going to get that?

Add to that the fact that the PA government can't move forward to privatize the liquor stores. Government is supposed to govern, not run businesses. This is an antiquated system that needs to end.

I've lived in PA for 30 years and had 3 children while I was here. None of my children want to stay living here. They have seen me struggle paying these school taxes, when for 9 years we home schooled, because the schools are so bad. Add to that, what I mentioned above with the State liquor stores -- why would any young person want to stay living in such an antiquated state that can't seem to move forward? PA needs to get with the times, or it will keep struggling. Change those two things above and watch this state start growing. But considering the members in our congress are more interested in what goes in their pockets, than helping the people they are supposed to be representing, I'm doubting this will happen any time soon.

April 7, 2014 12:27 pm

Patty said:
I know I'm looking forward to the day I can leave this place behind for good. I hate it with a fiery passion! Lol.

April 6, 2014 6:50 pm

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