Fact Checker: Reynolds on brain drain

Has Iowa 'turned the corner' on its young, educated people staying?

Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, Mark Hanawalt, president of United Equipment Accessories, and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg talk June 27 during a “Build a Better Iowa” event and tour at the Waverly company. (JEFF REINITZ/COURIER)
Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, Mark Hanawalt, president of United Equipment Accessories, and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg talk June 27 during a “Build a Better Iowa” event and tour at the Waverly company. (JEFF REINITZ/COURIER)


“We have turned the corner when it comes to our young people staying in Iowa. We were educating and exporting them out, but we do see more young people staying in the state,” Reynolds said. “We’ve turned the corner; we’re heading in the right direction, but we have a long ways to go and need to look for opportunities to, of course, bring them back home.”

Source of claim

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said this June 27 at a “Build a Better Iowa” event in Waverly, according to an article written by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.


The loss of educated young people has been a concern in Iowa for decades because these folks are expected to drive the economy as employees, entrepreneurs and civic leaders.

State leaders have tried to stem the so-called brain drain with programs like the Iowa Student Internship Program, in which the Iowa Economic Development Authority provides grants of up to $3,100 to small- and medium-sized companies in targeted industries to help pay for internships for Iowa college students.

“The goal is to retain educated workers in Iowa,” the Economic Development Authority’s website states.

It was with great interest the Fact Checker read Reynolds’s statement that Iowa had “turned the corner” on brain drain. When asked what data Reynolds was using to make the claim, Press Secretary Brenna Smith provided census data showing three age brackets — 20-24, 30-34 and 35-39 — had grown at a faster rate than the general Iowa population from 2010 to 2016.

Iowans ages 20 through 39 made up 26.1 percent of the estimated population in 2016, compared with 25.4 percent of the population in 2010, according to the data.


Gary Krob, coordinator of the State Data Center, confirmed the numbers Smith provided but said they don’t necessarily show Iowa is keeping more of its young people.

“It’s not wrong, but in my opinion, it’s kind of apples and oranges,” he said.

Krob pointed to three slides in a recent presentation he gave about Iowa’s population. One shows the state’s age distribution in 1900 looks like a pyramid with the youngest age bracket being the largest and each successive bracket getting smaller. By 1980, there is a bulge of Iowans ages 15-19 and 20-24 — the typical college years — followed by a slow tapering. The 2016 distribution chart shows a dramatic drop in population for 25-29 year olds.

“That continues until age 50, which indicates were getting people back around 50,” Krob said.

Iowa’s state universities, which track where their graduates find jobs, haven’t seen much change in recent years in the share of graduates staying in Iowa, according to the schools.

Iowa Population 1980, 2016

Of 4,103 Iowa State University 2015-16 graduates surveyed within six months of graduation, 53.2 percent accepted jobs in Iowa. Figures for 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 were between 52 percent and 55 percent.

The University of Iowa’s numbers are comparable; ranging between 48.7 percent and 52 percent of graduates landing their first job in Iowa.

About 80 percent of University of Northern Iowa graduates find jobs in Iowa, according to recent years’ surveys.


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“It looks very consistent across the board,” said Michael Gaul, chairman of the ISU Career Services Council.

Krob also tracks in-migration and out-migration numbers, which indicate fewer Iowans overall may be leaving for other states.

From 2000-2009, 52,205 people left Iowa for other states. Only 10,683 Iowans moved out from 2010-2016, which means more than 40,000 people would need to leave by the end of 2019 to match the previous decade.

The census does not track ages or education levels in the population change data, so it’s impossible to know the link between this data and brain drain.


We hope Reynolds is right that Iowa is losing fewer educated young people. Having young people make up a slightly larger share of the state population sounds promising, but it doesn’t necessarily support the statement that Iowa has “turned the corner.”

Iowa’s state universities have seen little change in the number of graduates taking jobs in Iowa, and age distribution charts based on census data still show a dip in the 25-29 age bracket.

As governor, Reynolds is now Iowa’s top official and her statements carry a lot of weight. For this reason, she should have data to back up her claims. We give her claim a D.


The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.



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