At the 2008 NAPC Annual Conference demographer Harold Hodgkinson spoke about the transience of the American population (over 40 million people move every year, a pattern he finds "pathological".) In all that moving around, some states are losers, and some are winners (and some lose by winning too much, but that's another discussing about managing growth impacts.)
The Pew Research Center has provided some useful language to describe two separate factors related to population movements within the United States. After analyzing population data, they provide these definitions:
- "Magnet" states are those in which a high share of the adults who live there now moved there from some other state.
- "Sticky" states are those in which a high share of the adults who were born there live there now.
- Magnet states are calculated by: Residents born out of a state / Total state population.
- Sticky states are calculated by: Residents born in a state and living in the same state /Residents born in the state and living in the United States.
Some states are magnets but not sticky; some are sticky but not magnets; some are sticky magnets; and some are neither sticky nor magnetic. (and a few states defy classification -- I'm talking about you, Oklahoma!)
They also provide maps for regional and interstate migration patterns why are fun to play with.
Why is this important? Dr. Hodgkinson says:
Hundreds of studies examine why people leave places, but few ask why people stay. Yet this is enormously important.
Transience destroys communities. Communities need engaged churches that care about the larger community as well as their own members. Communities need small retail stores with places to hang out, sit down and gossip (if you can't sit down, you can't truly gossip). And they need active associations. Writing a check to the Boy Scouts is not enough; communities need troop leaders. Communities also need diverse economies with small manufacturing companies where even high school graduates can earn enough to own homes in the community. High home ownership rates, in turn, offer further stability, even in big-city neighborhoods.
Families with children are important in a community, too. And if the children are known by adults who are not their parents, that's pure gold. If somebody who is not a parent can say, "Johnny, you better stop doing that or I'm going to tell your mother," Johnny stops doing that. It's one of the world's great surveillance systems, but it only works for adults who know children by name.
A few people have picked up on the research, but few of those have begun the discussions about the implications. For those of us working on community indicators and civic engagement, we've struggled with these issues for some time. How can a community improve its quality of life for the benefit of its residents? How can the people living in a community come together to identify a shared vision of what's important? How can those values and dreams be measured to know if we are progressing towards a desired future?
In community groups all over the country, I've heard residents concerned that they retain a sense of place and the unique nature of the community that they grew up with (or that attracted them so much when they moved to that location.) I've heard parents worry that their home community provide opportunities to encourage (or even allow) their children to desire to live there as adults.
On the other hand, I've seen communities struggle to find a sense of identity when the majority of people living there have been there for 10 years or less. I've watched communities battle in local government and in the media over competing views for the future -- maintaining the kind of place long-time residents are comfortable with, or embracing a new future similar to the kinds of places new residents remember fondly.
So add these words -- "magnet" and "sticky" -- to your vocabulary for community work. I'd be interested in your input on how these population changes affect your work -- I think of the conversation we just had in Austin among communities with population growth and others with population losses, and the challenges they each face.
(Hat tip: SCOPE)