Thursday, June 20, 2024

New data shows Louisiana losing college grads to rest of South

by BIZ Magazine

Lucy Bui would have liked to stay close to her family and find a job in Louisiana after graduating from LSU with an architecture degree in 2022. But the professional opportunities were not in Louisiana, she said.

She quickly accepted an offer with a firm in Dallas.

“I would never grow as a professional if I stayed in Baton Rouge,” said Bui, who grew up there. “Staying home in Louisiana wouldn’t have fulfilled my ambition and desires of becoming a well-rounded person.”

The quality of life in Dallas is higher than anything Bui could find in Louisiana, she said. 

Bui said New Orleans has a taste of all of that, but too little to keep young people in the state.

“They can’t see a future with Louisiana. They want better job opportunities and quality of life,” Bui said.

Bui’s story is a common one for Louisiana college graduates. Indeed, from 2005 to 2020, Louisiana’s largest population centers lost a net 317,000 residents, many of whom were young and college-educated, new migration data shows.

The state’s brain drain issue has long been a concern among Louisiana lawmakers and business owners. New data collected by University of Louisiana at Lafayette economist Gary Wagner brings insights into how Louisiana’s nine largest metropolitan areas fared in attracting and retaining talent.

The new data confirms trends that have long been known: Louisiana is a net exporter of young, college-educated individuals; and the biggest attractions for Louisiana expats are Texas and other Southern states.

Louisiana’s nine largest metropolitan areas lost a net 317,500 residents from 2005 to 2020, according to further analysis of the data conducted by the Manship School News Service. 

About 178,000 residents, or 56% of the net loss, moved to Texas. Altogether, 85% of Louisiana’s net population loss went to other Southern states. 

The 2020 Census showed slow growth for the state’s population as a whole, well below the national average. Rural north Louisiana saw significant losses, and what little population growth there was in Louisiana occurred almost entirely in the southern half of the state in urban areas.

“We’ve been seeing population loss in our rural parishes. But what this shows is that we’re exporting people even from our MSA’s, which should be the locus of professional economic activity,” said Tim Slack, a demographer at LSU.

With population loss, especially among the young and educated, comes an array of problems for the state, Slack explained.

“They’re the best positioned to move into the professional classes and be consistent taxpayers,” Slack said. “We’re losing potential civic leaders and industrial leaders.”

Despite Louisiana’s outmigration patterns, national data suggests that Louisiana isn’t suffering from brain drain nearly as much as other, smaller and more rural states.

Louisiana does fairly well, in 17th place, when it comes to keeping and attracting college grads compared to other states, according to a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research and an analysis by the Washington Post last year. 

As for what lawmakers can do to address young, educated people choosing other states over Louisiana, the push factors should be the priority, Slack said. That includes a general lack of economic development and professional opportunities.

“I don’t regret my decision,” Bui said. “I didn’t want to be complacent, so I took the first opportunity to leave.”

By Josh Archote, LSU Manship School News Service

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