Bringing young people back home
If we West Virginians can just find a way to solve the riddle U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey put into words, we’ll be all right. Anyone want to take a shot at it?
Bailey, of Wheeling, sat down for a long interview with the Wheeling newspaper. One question was why he has remained in Wheeling for many years.
“Family, I suppose, primarily kept me in Wheeling, along with the fact that I love West Virginia,” he responded. He added that our state is “just a great place to raise a family … and all of my children have moved away.”
I can just hear the chorus of “amens” from people reading those lines.
We’re getting older. In 1990, about 15% of the people in West Virginia were 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau. Now, it’s nearly 20% (compared to 16% for the nation as a whole).
That’s because many young people can’t wait to get out of West Virginia. College graduates, especially, jump ship like passengers leaving the Titanic. Ever wonder why our state has the lowest education attainment rate in the nation (fewer than 20% of us have bachelor’s degrees or better)? In part, it’s because once a young woman or man earns a degree, she or he moves elsewhere to make some other state’s education attainment rate look better.
We can only wonder how much California, New York, Florida, etc. owe to Mountain State institutions of higher learning.
Why do they leave? Because they can’t find the jobs they want here, partly. And — let’s be honest — what we have to offer here doesn’t satisfy quite a few young people. The bright lights and city sights draw them away.
Bailey is right, though. Much of West Virginia, including our area, is a wonderful place to raise children. Even with the drug abuse epidemic, this is a relatively safe place. Many of our schools are reasonably good. There’s a kind of neighborliness here, with all that implies, that you don’t find everywhere.
I could go on, but I’d probably be preaching to the choir.
So, how do we convince the young people to stop getting on country roads leading out of West Virginia? Anyone?
Here’s a thought: Let’s stop trying to keep the fresh high school and college graduates from leaving. That’s a losing battle. They’re not going to believe the grass isn’t greener elsewhere until they see for themselves.
It’s the late 20s and early 30s crowd we need to lure back. They’ve been to the big city, so to speak, and found that in many ways, it really is a concrete jungle. A substantial number of them are yearning to come home.
Some of them are willing to take a pay cut — as long as it isn’t severe — to return to Almost Heaven.
When opportunities do arise, then, we need to ensure our children in the Big Apple or Silicon Valley are aware of them. They can’t come home to jobs they don’t know exist, after all.
No, this doesn’t solve the riddle posed by Bailey. But bringing them back, even several years after they’ve left, is better than nothing.
All we have to do is give the kids a decent excuse to come home, and I suspect some will.
Mike Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.