An analysis of tax-return data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service showed that in Memphis, upward mobility often translates into outward mobility. The total income of people leaving the area outstrips the pay of those moving in by tens of millions of dollars each year, according to the data.
That has led to a substantial -- and accelerating -- hemorrhaging of wealth, bringing ominous portents for the economy, tax base and even quality of life for the entire region.
The income drain has been most pronounced within Shelby County. During a 10-year period ending in 2007, the county sustained a net loss of $1.83 billion in incomes among residents moving in and those leaving.
Not only did the number of wage-earners leaving (173,601) outnumber those coming in (155,660), but the average income of the outgoing residents was greater than those arriving -- $46,880, compared with $40,544.
One person who left Memphis for greener pastures "cited familiar complaints with Memphis: intractable racial divisions, the high cost of air travel and a lack of forward thinking. 'People are so focused on looking back at the past'."
This trend reminds me of Richard Florida who wrote The Rise of the Creative Class and other best-selling books. His basic claim in his writing is the cities with high concentrations of high-tech workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, and a group he describes as "high bohemians", correlate with a higher level of economic development.
Florida argues that a strong creative class promotes an open, dynamic, personal and professional environment that attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital. Attracting and retaining high-quality talent, instead of infrastructure projects like sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, is a better primary use of a city's resources for long-term prosperity.
Florida uses his own ranking systems that rate cities by a "Bohemian index," a "Gay index," a "diversity index".
People of the creative class do not linger for very long in Memphis. They move to cities that have learned to embrace diversity like Dallas or Atlanta - cities that have passed employment non-discrimination ordinances that protect people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The way GLBT people are treated in a community is one method for measuring social, political and economic success.
The City of Memphis can leave the past behind by moving into the future. Enacting a non-discrimination ordinance that protects all people regardless of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, creed, political affiliation or other non merit factors will send a message to creative people looking to call Memphis home.