Why Attracting Young, College-Educated Migrants Hurts Sun Belt Cities

Communities that rely on talent imports skimp on investing in schools, capping the upward mobility of native residents.
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Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo: Cathleen A Clapper/Shutterstock)

Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo: Cathleen A Clapper/Shutterstock)

Last time at Burgh Diaspora, "One could conclude that the rise in BA attainment hurt Asheville’s labor market. It was a curse." How could attracting smart millennials be a curse? Attracting smart millennials isn't a curse everywhere, just in the Sun Belt:

Why are young people having such a tough time in the labour market? Part of the problem is competition. Many Southern cities, with their low cost of living, cheap property prices and good weather, attract graduates from across America, and there aren’t enough jobs to employ them all. Houston saw a 50% increase in graduates aged between 25 to 34 in the 12 years since 2000; Nashville saw a 48% leap. Newcomers clash over the available jobs, and residents with inferior credentials are easily displaced. Those who fail to become knowledge workers often end up shunted into the growing service sector, doing the kind of jobs (serve coffee, fix up houses) that techie types are too busy to do for themselves. “Talent recruitment is not balanced against talent development in the South,” says David Dodson, president of MDC. “It’s almost like a colonial economy, because the benefits accrue to those that come from someplace else.”

Places such as Asheville, North Carolina, are talent magnets for all the wrong reasons. The same goes for Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Greenville, South Carolina. The rise in college educational attainment rate seems to harm the rest of the labor market in these cities. The benefits accrue to those that come from someplace else. Carpetbaggers!

For the South, the problem boils down to education. Sun Belt cities rely too heavily on importing highly skilled labor, which undermines the upward mobility of more tenured residents. In effect, the education expenditures in the Rust Belt subsidize the low taxes in the South. Communities that rely on talent imports skimp on investing in schools, capping the upward mobility of native residents.

Eventually, the greenfield development (think new suburban housing) in the Sun Belt will peter out while legacy costs mount just like they did in the fiscally hamstrung Rust Belt. The South won't look so comparatively cheap. The new greenfields will be the brownfields of the urban core where legacy assets still support workforce development opportunities and upward mobility.

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