The unrepresentative Representatives who infest Indiana’s legislature have gone home, leaving citizens to consider the multiple harms done during the concluded session. One harm that was mostly overlooked was their refusal to invest in Indiana’s state parks.
As the Capital Chronicle has reported,
Indiana Senate Republicans’ disregard for our parks and for the benefits they bring to Hoosiers’ quality of life was on full display recently when they zeroed out Gov. Eric Holcomb’s requested investment of $25 million for the President Benjamin Harrison Land Trust.
The Trust is the mechanism through which the state purchases land for conservation and parks. As the Chronicle editorialized,
Our Indiana parks and natural spaces are a treasure. They bring more than a connection to nature. They bring jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that attracts and retains talent…. A 2016 study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana stated, “infrastructure related to traditional wellness activities (such as trails, playgrounds, parks, and open green space) matter more than ever in where people and subsequent businesses relocate.”
Parks are highly prized and extensively utilized–a quality of life asset–and as Michael Hicks recently documented, economic growth is tightly tied to quality of life indicators. It’s one reason some places grow while others shrink.
First, most migration is concentrated among younger people with high human capital. Yes, retirees move, as do folks in mid-life, but most don’t. One result of the age concentration of migrants is that this movement of people also drives natural population change of births minus deaths. So, places with net in-migration tend to thrive over the coming decades, while places that lose folks do not.
Migration of people is driven by three factors; economic opportunity, quality of life and housing elasticity. Housing elasticity is simply whether the supply of housing adjusts to demand. With the exception of a dozen or so large metropolitan areas in the U.S., housing elasticity plays no meaningful role in household migration. In fact, the Midwest currently benefits from bad housing policies in other regions such as the West Coast. Thus, migration in the Midwest really comes down to economic opportunity and quality of life.
For most of American history, people moved for better farmland, better jobs and/or better places to start businesses. As the role of educated workers has grown, however, and the share of college graduates explains nearly 80 percent of the growth and earnings in a city, people began to value more than just economic opportunity in their location choices.
Today, research shows that jobs follow people, not business-friendly tax climates.
In 1980, few places enjoyed both economic opportunity and high quality of life, but as of 2019, they are highly correlated…
Over the past couple of decades, families found that their location choices were vastly expanded. Economic opportunity was tied to the places where people clustered, and people clustered where the quality of life was good.
In the 60s and 70s, the perceived differences between places was driven by nature–climate, mountains, lakes– not government. That has changed.
The empirical evidence is now extraordinarily clear. Places with restrictive social policies in the United States fail to become destinations for economic opportunity. They struggle to attract and retain their share of well-educated people. That trend is sure to continue, if not accelerate.
Another change: in the 2000s, a national focus on school quality emerged.
At the same time, labor markets began valuing education far more heavily. So, for the past couple of decades, it has become obvious that the quality of a K-12 and college education were prime determinants of economic opportunity for individuals.
In the post-COVID environment, the role of quality of life is even stronger. Today a quarter of all young, educated people have full-time remote jobs, and half work at least partially remote. The certain effect of this is that the amenities (and dis-amenities) of a region will weigh more heavily on prospective residents than ever before.
So, what do we know about the characteristics of a high quality of life? Excellent schools, natural amenities/climate, and local recreational opportunities head the list.
What is new is the fact that the effect of quality of life on population growth is close to four times larger after COVID than in the decade before. Much of that is due to remote work accelerating the existing trends. We don’t yet know how long that will last, but my guess is for at least a generation. We also know that a welcoming social climate matters.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s legislature continues to pursue an outdated low-tax strategy, shortchanging education and parks, among other quality of life amenities, and doubling down on misogyny and homophobia.
No wonder we’re not thriving.