Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cleveland Brain Gain Explained

Today, features the work of the Cleveland "Rust Belt Chic" guy, Richey Piiparinen, and Jim Russell under the title "Unexpected Brain Gain Boosts Cleveland Toward New Economy, Study Finds."

The upbeat story puts on its ear those who paint Cleveland as a population sinkhole in a death spiral.

And the piece cites a pretty interesting fact that caught my attention.

The 2010 Census greatly favored cities with big universities to be seen as population-growing, educated locations.

Indeed, anecdotally, I know that the takers of the 2010 Census were extremely aggressive about counting college students where they went to college rather than their permanent address with their family.  My then-college-housed daughter would have gotten counted at her college if I hadn't aggressively intervened and coached her to shoo off the Census hounds who were stalking her dorm's hallways to add to their numbers.

I tend to think there were some politics in that Census approach, but that's another topic.  One of the impacts of counting college kids where they go to school rather than where they make their permanent address is to give cities with big universities a boost in population and educational attainment.

It's a false boost for those cities and a false drain for others.  The impact is negative on older cities with no big university.  Those places' population, by comparison, are older and less educated.

What Piiparinen and Russell's study points out that it is more proper to measure working age population and newcomers to that group as a measure of the demographic ups and downs of a place rather than the conventional measures that come from the Census.

They're right.

Here's hoping the story isn't just a one-time blip in the Cleveland narrative.  There are real reasons to be more upbeat than meets the eye.

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