If you ask leaders of legacy cities – older, industrial metros – what keeps them up at night, odds are you will get brain drain as a top response. However, “Brain Gain in America’s Shrinking Cities,” a report from the Manhattan Institute, contends that most of these cities with declining populations are in fact growing their pool of college-educated residents. The report finds that:
1. Every major U.S. metro area that is losing population and/or jobs is actually gaining people with college degrees—at double-digit rates.
2. As a group, America’s shrinking cities are holding their own with—and, in many cases, outperforming—the rest of the country in overall education-attainment rates.
3. Most shrinking U.S. cities are increasing their educated-population share by adding more young adults with college degrees—and are catching up with the rest of the U.S. in young adult college degree–attainment levels.
The report posits that the “time and money being spent to fight brain drain in these cities should instead be redirected to more real and pressing problems, such as fiscal distress, infrastructure challenges, public safety, and excessive regulation.”
Despite gaining educated residents, population decline is problematic nonetheless. Several cities are looking to immigrants as a way to grow their tax bases and create more small businesses. Pittsburgh, for example, has lost nearly half its population in the last 55 years. Mayor Bill Peduto’s “Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan”aspires to attract 22,000 new immigrants to the city (Next City). The plan calls for increased youth and cultural exchange programs and a biannual “Citizenship Day” to offer immigration legal services. Peduto is also pushing for a municipal ID card that would allow undocumented immigrants to open a bank account, sign a lease, and unlock other city services.