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What Brain Drain?
California Among the Best in U.S. at Retaining Skilled Workers
Oct 12, 2011
Publisher: Milken Institute

Though the headwinds facing the California economy are real, research from the Milken Institute shows that the state remains remarkably attractive to those who power the leading edge of its economy. And the common perception that high-skilled workers are leaving in droves is not true.

"Because the major disadvantage of out-migration for any state is the loss of skilled young workers, we were pleased to see that the numbers tell a story quite different from what people seem to believe about the flow of labor and California," said Ross DeVol, the Institute's chief research officer.

After examining labor flows to and from all 50 states, "What Brain Drain?" found that between 2000 and 2009, California had the least annual "skill out-migration" relative to the total of skilled residents. In addition, the Golden State continues to be a powerful magnet for top talent from around the world. Once foreign-born skilled workers come to California, they tend to stay; the outflow rate for this group was the lowest in the nation.

The report's policy recommendations conclude that although California has managed to keep skilled individuals within its borders, it can't rest on its laurels. Its overall unemployment rate is the second-highest in the nation, and its high-tech sector alone shed more than 75,000 jobs from 2008 to 2009. The state's ability to retain high skilled workers is a bright spot. But its heavy reliance on foreign-born talent may backfire if these immigrants respond to new opportunities in their native countries.