Menus Subscribe Search

Burgh Diaspora

atlanta-midtown

The skyline of Midtown in Atlanta. (Photo: Mike/Wikimedia Commons)

Atlanta Is Dying: Young, Smart People Are Fleeing Georgia’s Capital City

• February 12, 2014 • 1:15 PM

The skyline of Midtown in Atlanta. (Photo: Mike/Wikimedia Commons)

Why can’t The ATL keep more than 50 percent of Georgia Tech’s graduates? It’s about aspiration, not place-failure.

As I write this post, Atlanta prepares for ice storm Armageddon. Fresh in Georgian minds is the epic catastrophe resulting from a few inches of snow merely two weeks ago. Mayor Reed gives the pep talk:

Before Snowjam turned into a verbal snowball fight between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and some news outlets, Reed planned to spend most of his time Jan. 31 with the Atlanta Press Club talking about his initiatives for 2014.

Reed did address some goals for the year, such as keeping more young, smart people in the city. One statistic the mayor cited about the percentage of Georgia Tech students who stay after graduation piqued our curiosity.

“Right now, we only keep 50 percent of Georgia Tech’s graduates,” Reed said.

Nothing like diverting attention from one public relations disaster to another. Save that the people will rally behind Reed. Atlanta must retain local graduates. Great, but perhaps everyone is leaving because of apparent ineptness such as “Snowjam.” The mayor is admitting that his city stinks.

Why else would anyone leave? Atlanta is dying.

Recently, I have gained a better appreciation of the “geography” of brain drain. People only leave if a place fails. Fix the place and no one will move out, ever. Pretty much everyone thinks this way. I’m not sure why. It’s not true. Social science has proven it:

In his 2007 paper, “Keeping Them in Their Place: The Ambivalent Relationship Between Development and Migration in Africa,” the International Migration Institute’s Oliver Bakewell wrote that “from its earliest roots, development practice has commonly seen a reduction in migration as either an (implicit or explicit) aim of intervention or an indicator of a programme’s success.” Migration, then, is considered inversely proportional to success in African development.

But a fascinating new paper from the World Bank turns this logic on its head. “Does Migration Foster Exports?­” has a title with an unnecessary question mark. According to the authors, migration does indeed foster exports in Africa, and in numbers large enough that they should catch the attention of development and policy leaders worldwide. Their findings “suggest that one additional migrant creates about 2,100 dollars a year in additional exports for his country of origin.”

Using that estimation, a half-million more African migrants dispersing throughout the world—a number equivalent to less than 1/100th of a percent of the world’s population—would create more than a billion dollars in additional exports for Africa, per year. The $2,100 is in addition to the dramatically increased salaries African migrants can expect from moving to countries with stronger economies. It’s also in addition to the remittances they send home. And it takes into account that half of all African migrants don’t even leave the continent. With the number of African migrants in the world having doubled since 1980 to more than 30 million, and given Africa’s expected population boom in the coming decades, the impact Africans have from a distance on their home-country economies is only set to grow.

Much of the conventional wisdom about migration comes from a xenophobic perspective. Outsiders are bad. We’ll fix your hometown so you won’t bother us (and steal our women).

People relocate for reasons of aspiration, not place-failure. If place-failure were the cause of outmigration, then we could hold up a town that did it right. You won’t find that town on any map. It doesn’t exist. Ambition is ubiquitous. The grass is always greener for the best and brightest.

Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.