By Aaron Strain / Opinion Page Editor
Our state faces a serious problem – young people are fleeing.
Kansas’ regressive politics and perceived limited career opportunities cause many millennials and zoomers to leave for broader pastures. While it’s not the only solution, some simple policy changes, already enacted in the states they’re fleeing to, could help buck the trend.
First, I know I do not speak for every member of “my generation,” who hold as differing opinions and experiences as any group. Rather, this is based upon my lived experience being part of a diverse, aware, connected, yet depressed and disillusioned generation.
So, why do we want to leave?
For the first time in history, younger generations are worse off financially than their parents. Millennials, and some zoomers, came of age through two economic recessions. The 2008 housing bubble explosion was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; then, 2020’s coronavirus crash overtook its ranking.
According to The Upshot, landlocked states like Kansas tend to have a lower cost of living and, because of out-of-state attendance at public universities, technically subsidize other states’ skilled labor force. However, without a wide range of job opportunities in these states, keeping graduates is a challenge.
Then, without a college-educated workforce, creating those jobs in the first place is difficult. Naturally, people want to go where they can comfortably live while working a job they actually want to do.
This generation of Kansans attended K-12 schools during the worst of Gov. Sam Brownback’s trickle-down tax experiment. The right-wing pipe dream created two contrasting results: a windfall for Kansas’ wealthiest people and economic and job growth devastation.
The unconstitutional underfunding of schools forced years to end early, school district consolidation, and staff cuts. Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion, and his push to privatize the state’s public healthcare program for low-income individuals entirely, caused rural hospitals to close.
Alongside austerity came reactionary social policy. Brownback supported blocking marriage equality and other LGBT-discriminatory actions that are already being written about negatively in history books.
With all of these forces combined, in 2016, Kansas faced “a net migration rate of negative 2% among college-educated people under 40 – meaning more young people were moving out than in,” according to the Kansas City Star.
Now, the Kansas Legislature’s Republican supermajority seems to be going full-steam backward. Yet again, they are wrecking the state’s economy and, therein, the hope of retaining young people. Legislators are considering bills to give multinational corporations handouts, divert funds from public schools to discriminatory private schools, and attack transgender children.
Why would young people, who tend to be more accepting of diversity and politically engaged, want to stay here? To paraphrase David Bowie, we’re quite aware of what we’re going through as we try to change our world.
If we want to save this state (that I know we all love), maybe let’s not do that.
Instead, we can fund Medicaid expansion through the legalization and taxation of marijuana, pass anti-discrimination laws, invest in public education, and create better job opportunities to keep young people here and our state afloat.