The Root Causes of Out-Migration

Much is said of the problem of out-migration in North Dakota. Most of what is said is in regards to what handouts and incentives can be given to bribe young people to stay in the state, but these only treat the symptoms, they do not address the real problems which are three-fold.

1. Tax Climate. North Dakota has been ranked 31st in Business Friendly Tax Policy by the conservative Tax Foundation. This ranking is the symptom of a burdensome tax code at the state level.

The result of this over taxation of course is the current $527 million budget surplus. By making it more expensive to do business in the state, many well paying jobs that would attract home-grown talent go elsewhere – such as South Dakota which has no income tax and is ranked #2 on the same list.

2. Student Debt. North Dakota graduates leave school with more debt than graduates of all but two states (Iowa and New Hampshire).

Given the poor tax climate for businesses, it is only logical that graduates would have to leave the state to find a job to pay back their debt in a reasonable amount of time. The same policies that make it hard for businesses to operate trickle down and cause fewer good jobs to be created.

Tuition is lower here than elsewhere, but the way financial aid is calculated means that less is granted to North Dakota on a per student basis as a result.

3. Attitude. Growing up I, and many of my classmates, were told “you are too good for North Dakota.” While it was probably a method of boosting the self-esteem of our age group, sometimes it seems that attitude was not far off.

As a result, many of the brightest minds do leave the state for greener pastures. Sure, a lot of them are coming back to raise their families after being gone, but why don’t our policies make it easier for them to stay here in the first place?

Why are we throwing taxpayer dollars at subsidizing the educations of students just to watch them walk out the door? What sense does it make to subsidize employers in other states and in turn increasing the tax revenues of those states? When graduates leave the state it is a failed investment.

There are arguments to be made for creating ways for graduates to earn discounts on their incurred student debt, but it probably won’t be enough to keep young people in the state without addressing these key issues first.

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