Maybe it’s not news, although it’s still depressing, that many Louisiana young people are voting with their feet by moving to other states to start more rewarding careers. But the leaving-Louisiana effect may be getting worse, at least among the best and the brightest who finish college.
Economist Gary Wagner of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said that among college-educated residents, Louisiana has the worst net-migration — those leaving more than moving in — with Texas in 2017 than in the previous 10 years.
Again, perhaps not that much of a surprise to many Louisiana families welcoming children back from Texas for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it’s still bad news.
Net migration to Texas for those ages 24 and under with a degree in 2017 was at -2,140, the worst since 2004. For ages 25-34, that year it was -1,343 after being at -1,275 in 2016.
“You are losing some of your talented people, and talented people are really what drive regions to grow faster,” Wagner said. “The way I like to think of it is people are the best resource we have. It’s not oil. It’s not natural resources. It’s people. When you take away the No. 1 resource you have, that’s a disadvantage.”
But do we really believe that our residents are our primary resource?
One of the rules of society is that you value what you pay for. In the state budget, for much of the time that Wagner reported upon, investment in education and particularly higher education was stalled.
For small- to middle-sized cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, the competition with big cities has been increasingly tilted in favor of the latter.
“Think about it this way: when it comes to migration, you have push factors and you have pull factors,” LSU demographer Tim Slack said. “In Texas, having places like Dallas and Houston and San Antonio, that’s pulling people out of Louisiana toward the opportunities provided there.
“Then you have push factors. Two major push factors in Louisiana are we have some of the highest poverty rates in the country and our economy is disproportionately leveraged on a 20th-century economy.”
The good news is that Louisiana is taking steps to improve its economy, putting more money — although still far from lavish amounts — into higher education and into grade schools. After all, both the push and pull factors in a 21st-century economy are underpinned by better-educated populations.
In the last election, we heard too much talk about granting ever-more-lavish tax subsidies to multinational corporations to come to Louisiana. Fortunately, the balanced approach exemplified by many actions of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration was ultimately persuasive to a majority.
But commitment from government at many levels is needed before Louisiana can pull from others and stop pushing our young people to states with better priorities.