Minnesota takes advantage of brain drain in Wisconsin, North and South Dakota

A congressional study shows our net brain gain is their net brain drain.

A congressional study shows our net brain gain is their net brain drain. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Americans move. A lot. We pack up for new homes more than nearly every other country in the world. Roughly a quarter of adults have moved within the past five years.

Mobility is a hallmark of career success for most adults, especially if you happen to be educated. So a study by Congress’ Joint Economic Committee attempted to map how brain drain hits various states. What's good for Minnesota hasn't been very good for our neighbors. 

South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are all seeing a flight of their best and brightest. And they're most likely to end up right here.

There’s ostensibly no better states to compare than Wisconsin and Minnesota. We’re similarly sized, populated, and adjacent. A 2017 study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that 20 percent of Wisconsin natives ages 31 to 40 who had moved away were “highly educated,” as opposed to 10 percent of those who moved in. 

Over the past decade, Minnesota has been beating Wisconsin for job growth, plus shrinking the gender wage gap and providing more people with health insurance. It's easy enough to argue that Wisconsin’s more mobile class is deserting for greener pastures.

But a 2018 study by the University of Wisconsin Extension Center tells a different story. The majority of Wisconsinites with bachelor’s degrees actually stay in the Dairy State. The real problem is a lack of degree-holders coming in from elsewhere, and lagging college enrollment overall. Just 29 percent of the state’s population – age 25 and up – has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The average rate for the United States is 32.5 percent. In Minnesota, it’s closer to 37.

Any way you dice it, the competing studies show in part how states are becoming polarized based on education levels. 

“To the extent that some states become home to large numbers of college graduates while non-graduates come to reside disproportionately in other states, social segregation across regions of the country worsens,” the Joint Ecomonic Committee report says. That means dividing the “coastal cosmopolitans” from the “heartland traditionalists,” the haves from the have-nots, the progressives from the conservatives.

“As communities become more homogenous, distrust and misunderstanding of those with alternative views increases,” the report continues. “The person holding a conflicting viewpoint, rather than being a neighbor, is a distant other.”