Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Where Do All the Young Folks Go?

The election map, HRC vs. DJT, shows a heavy skew of Democratic voters lodged particularly in the large urban clusters on both the East and West Coasts, add Chicago and some neighbors, with red/GOP in the rest of the country. Although the 2010 Census clearly establishes the United States as 80%+ urban (which will expand in the 2020 Census) – a steady trend from the 1920s when the country first tilted away from a majority rural population – those powerful urban areas are, for the most part, heavily concentrated in some very specific, high density areas. Since American political power is pretty much constitutionally relegated to those land masses we call “states,” cities are clearly second-rate political constituencies.
It is equally clear that the future of employment opportunities are predicated on much higher levels of skills than we have seen in the past, something under-educated workers are learning the hard way. Donald Trump’s promises notwithstanding, we aren’t going to see a massive uptick in semi-skilled blue collar workers, from coal miners to steel workers to down-and-dirty manufacturing laborers. That which can be digitized or automated will be.
While not all of the 86 million American Millennials – the largest and best educated generation in American history – have college degrees, 59% of this cohort have at least received some college education. By 2020, Millennials will constitute half of the national workforce and 40% of the eligible voters.
But when thinking about how polarized we have become, there are some very interesting, if not alarming, education-related trends we need to look at. As pointed out in my recent Farmageddon blog, there is an immutable and powerful bias in our constitution (and most state constitutions) – in the very make-up of our legislative bodies and how voting is configured – that minimizes urban votes and enhances, rather disproportionately, rural votes. So to the extent that someone living in a rural-values constituency leaves to go to one of those large urban clusters, they are significantly diluting the power of their vote.
The trend lines are rather clear, however, as will be illustrated later, that those with college degrees are increasingly likely to migrate to heavy urban areas, particularly where there are clusters of cities as are found in the strip of cities down the West Coast and the Northeast. Opportunities are perceived to be much greater where there are groups of vital cities in close proximity as opposed to more rural states with one or maybe two modest-sized cities rather isolated from those larger clusters.
While there was much movement in the United States until well-past WWII expansion, that cross-state movement has declined significantly. Where that movement continues is, however, fascinating. And while urban clusters may be where the future jobs are, the higher cost of living associated with those cities creates yet another barrier to those without the skillsets to afford to live there.
“[In] the 1980s, people started moving less. Internal migration has been in gradual decline ever since across all demographic groups. In the 1980s, 3 percent of men moved across state lines each year; over the last decade that figure has dropped to 1.7 percent. The decline is similar for women. Between 2001 and 2010, the demographic groups with the lowest rate of interstate migration were people with less than a high school diploma (1 percent) or nothing beyond a high school diploma (1.2 percent). Migration rates for college-educated people were roughly twice that.
“In the regional competition for the most skilled and most mobile workers in America, noncoastal states are at a disadvantage. Although they have some large cities, they tend to be farther from other large cities than is the case in the coastal areas. The economists Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange looked at the benefits of density and found that they tend to dissipate over distances greater than five miles.
“This advantage provided by clusters of cities is helpful for coastal states, which tend to contain many big metro areas, like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco in California, or the so-called Acela corridor stretching from Washington to Boston. But it can be bad news for inland areas with one or two large cities that are farther apart: Omaha and Kansas City, Mo., say; or Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
“The flows of young college graduates out of a state can often be replaced by flows of young college graduates moving in. The problem that many interior states face is that young college graduates moving into the state aren’t keeping up with those that are leaving.
“‘Lots of talented young people all over the country are eager to see new sights — what is different, and a problem for Michigan is that we have an unusually low rate of immigration,’ said Charley Ballard, a regional economist at Michigan State University, in an email.
“Keeping young college graduates would help alleviate the effects of globalization and technological change on these local economies. It’s not surprising that many states with net losses in their young and college-educated populations also showed some big gains for Donald J. Trump relative to Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012.” TheUpshot, New York Times, November 22nd.
Europe is much more aligned with determining political power focused on its urban clusters; they have had an opportunity to configure their constitutions in accordance with post-WWII realities, while the United States is operating with immutable structures created prior to 1800. Their big cities rule; ours do not.
And there are exceptions to that American migration phenomenon notes above, particularly in high cost urban states that produce a disproportionate number of college grads (e.g., New York and Massachusetts), but the rule is more than dissettling  to those red states that are losing their best and brightest to those blue urban clusters.
Generally, Rust Belt and Midwest states like Ohio, Michigan and Iowa, and Plains states like South Dakota and Nebraska have seen the largest net losses in younger, college-educated people… The places that are gaining college graduates tend to be coastal and Southern states like California, Maryland, Texas and South Carolina…
“One reason that inland states have a reasonable case for disappointment at not keeping their young college graduates: They’re helping to pay to educate them. A majority of college graduates get their degrees from public universities, which are partly funded by state governments. Of course this doesn’t diminish the other important benefits that public universities bring to each state’s economy, but if states are losing more college graduates than they are holding or bringing in, they’re effectively subsidizing other states’ skilled labor forces.
“Cities in these states do have some advantages. The cost of living is lower, mostly because housing is cheaper. Outdoor recreation is often more accessible. Still, these areas are in a bind: Without jobs to offer, luring young college-educated people is hard. At the same time, it’s hard to create jobs without a college-educated labor force.
“To Mr. Ballard, it’s not clear that one policy proposal exists that could jump-start the process. ‘It really is a chicken-and-egg problem,’ he said. ‘I don’t think there’s anybody out there that thinks there’s some quick, easy solution.’
“In the days when cities competed for manufacturing, advertising low wages and reliable utilities was often enough to draw businesses. Mr. Ballard pins his hopes of attracting more young, college-educated workers to Michigan on efforts to market cultural amenities and natural beauty. He points to the Grand Rapids Art Prize, an arts festival that awards half a million dollars to artists, as something that has brought some cultural cachet to that city, Michigan’s second largest... ‘It’s not all about jobs,’ Mr. Ballard said. ‘You’ve got to have it be a place where people want to live.’” NY Times.
To depolarize the United States, if that is still possible, creating high-level jobs and keeping local college grads in less urban states would seem to be as important as figuring out how to reduce the cost of college as a burden on lower and middle class families. Whether our policy-makers recognize this issue or are willing to deal with it may be an entirely different question. Did I mention… “it’s the economy, stupid”?
I’m Peter Dekom, and without more balance and spreading the future hope to more parts of America, the ability to hold the United States united becomes an increasingly difficult mandate.

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