Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.
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A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.
Is San Antonio, Texas, attracting Millennials? (Photo: Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock)

Is San Antonio, Texas, attracting Millennials? (Photo: Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock)

Population increases, your town is a magnet. Population decreases, "brain drain" is the claim. I could provide daily fresh content in a blog about journalists, policy analysts, and academics confusing population change with net migration. Today's demerit goes to Texas Monthly with an assist from the folks at Trulia:

The conventional wisdom is that Austin is packed with young people, while San Antonio primarily attracts people who are older and looking for a more affordable place to raise families. And while some of the data bears this out (the median age in San Antonio is 34.1, while in Austin it's 32.6), the engine driving the growth of two of the state's (and the nation's) boom cities offers a new wrinkle: Austin is actually the fastest-growing city among people fifty years and older, while San Antonio takes second place for cities attracting millennials (behind Colorado Springs).

I've emphasized the demographic offense. The ranking comes from Trulia and you can check that out here:

Recent Census Bureau findings show that millennials are flocking to big-city suburbs and lower-density cities. Check out these 10 cities, which made the list of the top 10 metros for millennial population growth.

San Antonio takes second place (behind Colorado Springs) for the top 10 metros for Millennial population growth, not attraction. The confusion might stem from the reference to the Census Bureau findings which do, indeed, imply migration. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Trulia also conflated the two.

Point being that Austin could be the "fastest-growing city among people fifty years and older" and the first place city for "attracting millennials." As Pittsburgh has taught me, a lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago. From the June 2014 Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly (PDF):

Economic conditions simultaneously inflated population migration out of Western Pennsylvania and depressed rates of migration into the area. The net loss of population due to migration was severe for the Pittsburgh MSA, which saw its total population decline by a larger number than any other metropolitan region over the course of the 1980s. This population loss occurred despite population gains generated by natural population change and the greater number of births over deaths that were occurring through the decade.

Past in-migration supported strong natural increase that made the net out-migration during the 1980s look a bit better than it really was. Still, between 1980 and 1990, the Pittsburgh metro lost about 20 percent of its population aged 20-29 to migration. Those young adults would have their babies somewhere else outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania. That exodus still haunts Pittsburgh demographics today.

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