Brain drain in Texas is real and it can endanger our prosperity

A brain with a faucet tap flowing
Our political climate is keeping away talented professionals.

This article originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News and was written by Louis A. Bedford IV. Reprinted with permission.

When I was in law school, I was a part of a small group of public interest students. We didn’t have dreams of working in large corporate law firms (otherwise known as “big law”), but rather we wanted to work in areas of the law where we felt we would do the most good.

We’ve since built our careers around issues like voting rights, immigration reform and reproductive justice. We love what we do, just not always in Texas— and we’re not the only ones to feel this way, which brings us to our problem. Our state is undergoing a tectonic shift in talent retention. If we don’t act, this shift will pose an existential threat to Texas’ overall sustainability.

Now, I fully understand how this thought may fly in the face of Texas’ population growth. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas gained almost 4 million residents between 2012 and 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. However, this population growth masks a hidden trend: An increasing number of young, educated professionals are either not considering coming to our state or are leaving the state in search of better opportunities and more inclusive environments.

As it relates to health care, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, states with similar abortion bans to what we have in Texas saw the number of medical students applying to OB-GYN residencies decrease by 10.5%, twice the nationwide average. In a survey of current and future physicians conducted by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 76% of respondents said they wouldn’t even bother to apply in a state with an abortion ban like the one we have now. This doesn’t just impact reproductive health care access in Texas; when physicians are rightfully concerned about the slippery slope of our restrictive abortion laws, it drastically impacts health care for everyone.

When it comes to education, Texas’ record on book bans and restrictive curriculums is not only deterring new talent from coming to our state but driving away the backbone of our education system — our teachers. According to a survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors and the Texas Faculty Association, more than 60% of surveyed faculty members said they would not recommend a position in Texas to their out-of-state colleagues, and 57% cited the state’s political climate as their top reason for wanting to leave the state.

These facts, along with the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion offices and the elimination of affirmative action in education, indicate that Texas is actively pushing away the very people we need in order to continue our growth and innovation.

To address this crisis comprehensively, we must undergo a paradigm shift. Our elected officials must embrace inclusivity and prioritize diversity. They must work to create an environment where young, educated individuals feel at home and empowered to effect positive change, rather than be bystanders, or even victims, of this rapidly changing political climate.

The brain drain of Texas is not just an abstract issue; it is a real and growing problem with tangible consequences. To ensure a prosperous future for Texas, we must confront this issue head-on, and it begins with reevaluating what may have driven so many talented individuals away. There are consequences for inaction, and, simply put, “you reap what you sow.” And the repercussions will haunt this state for generations to come.

Louis A. Bedford IV is a civil rights attorney in Dallas who practices in the areas of election and voting rights law. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.