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The myth of the 'brain drain' in Genesee County

A story in today's Buffalo News begins:

The decades-long brain drain among young people in the Buffalo Niagara region is turning into a brain gain.

There's some truth in the statement, according to data compiled by the University of Michigan, which created an online database tracking net migration rates on a county-by-county basis throughout the nation.

Erie County has been losing population in nearly all age groups going back to the 1960s, but Niagara County has had some success gaining population among adults 1990s and 2000s.

For us, the good news -- exploding a commonly held "brain drain" myth locally -- is that Genesee County has traditionally done well drawing in workers who are 25 years old and older, at least until people hit about 40 years old.

The chart below (larger version here) shows that for every decade since the 1950s, Genesee County has lost population in the teenage age group and college-age adults, but consistently seen gains in population for people in their 30s. Genesee County starts losing mid-career workers in their 40s (along with, apparently, their teenage children), suggesting -- if we can speculate on the point -- that there are insufficient job opportunities locally as people advance in their careers. In the past two decades, it looks like there is a trend toward retirees coming to Genesee County.

The chart reflects a gain or loss in an age bracket compared to that cohort a decade earlier. What it doesn't tell us is whether it's the same people coming or going from one decade to the next. For example, the thirtysomethings migrating to Genesee County may not have lived here in their younger years. Just as the data doesn't tell us where people are coming from, it also doesn't tell us where they're going to.

The chart for Erie County (larger version here) shows a much grimmer picture. Our neighbors to the west have been suffering population loss in all cohorts decade after decade since the close of the 1950s.

Niagara County (larger version here) has shown less decline than Erie County and some gains among people 35 to 50 in the 1990s and 2000s.

Wyoming and Orleans counties show migration patterns very similar to Genesee County.

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