The Brain Waste Problem

Many of us have heard of the concept of Brain Drain – – but not as much consideration has been given to its lesser-known cousin, Brain Waste. Brain Waste is the phenomena where immigrants with higher education and specialized knowledge are forced to work lower-skilled jobs due to the insurmountable language barrier they face when moving to a different country. Thus, there is a significant amount of wasted brainpower in communities across the country.

“23 percent, of the nearly 7.2 million college-educated immigrants ages 25 and older in the U.S. civilian labor force are affected by brain waste” (McHugh et al. 2014)

The burden of brain waste is certainly felt among the Congolese in Kirksville. Many people arrive in the US with advanced degrees, yet the majority of the Congolese population works in the Kraft food factory and Farmlands food processing centers, where they are not able to use their knowledge or professional skills they have gained from their degrees back in the Congo. Getting re-certified in their area of expertise is often a time-consuming and difficult process, especially with limited ability to use English.

Brain waste also has an impact on community integration. The schedules for the factory workers are typically 12 hour shifts, with a few days on and a couple of days off. Some people work during the weekends. This can limit the interactions between factory workers and those who don’t work in the factories. One can argue that this community isolation is a latent effect of the brain waste problem that forces immigrant communities into lower-skilled jobs.

I look forward to hearing firsthand accounts of how this issue has impacted the Congolese community here in Kirksville, and what is being done to combat it. Kirksville seems to be always looking for more ideas for economic development, so perhaps it is time to look at the people and resources already here.


Batalova, Jeanne, Michael Fix, and James D. Backmeier. “Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States.” December 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

McHugh, Margie, Jeanne Batalova, and Madeleine Morawski. “Brain Waste in the Workforce: Select U.S. and State Characteristics of College-Educated Native-Born and Immigrant Adults.” December 07, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

“What Is the Cost of Brain Waste for Highly Skilled Immigrants in the U.S.?” December 07, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

Leave a Reply