Why are our youth leaving?

Why are our youth leaving?

The results of the 2020 U.S. Census released in fall 2021 showed, in general, population growth has slowed to 0.1%, the lowest ever recorded since the first census. Some factors that influenced the decrease include slower birth rate, increased deaths due to COVID-19 and less international migration to the U.S.

The census did not bode well for Ohio as well. Two-thirds of Ohio counties lost population in the past decade, with the largest population drop being in Harrison County, where my family lives. The population dropped 8.7% to 14,483 residents. Many of the counties around Harrison County — Muskingum, Perry, Monroe, Carroll — also lost population.

Five of the counties that experienced the highest population growth, accounting for 90% of the state’s total growth, were in Central Ohio. Franklin County added 160,000 people, becoming the most populated county with 1.32 million people. Delaware and Union counties also saw growth. Counties surrounding major cities in Ohio added to their populations as well. Examining a population map, it is obvious rural Ohio is losing residents.

Ohio’s politicians have taken notice of the declining population in the state. Ohio lost one congressional seat in 2021. In 1970 Ohio had 24 congressional seats; today we have 15. Our state, according to many, is experiencing a “brain drain” as recent college graduates continue to move away from our state to other cities and regions of the country.

In order to halt this exodus, in December 2021, Rep. Jon Cross introduced legislation to attract and keep students and workers in the state. The GROW Act includes provisions that would help retain students by excusing them from paying Ohio income tax for three years if they stay in the state for three years after their graduation from an Ohio higher education institute. A 2018 study by the Fordham Institute found 51% of native Ohioans plan to leave the state after graduating from college.

In addition to forgiving taxes, the legislation also would recruit students from outside the state by offering a $25,000 scholarship to 100 top-five percent students pursuing a STEM-based career. The legislation offers incentives to employers who provide STEM internships and apprenticeships.

I’ve had firsthand experience with the exodus of students leaving the state. I taught both secondary and post-secondary courses for over 20 years, and many of my STEM students left the state upon graduation. When this topic came up during a recent conversation with our oldest granddaughter, a STEM student at Ohio University, she said, “No monetary compensation can keep me in the area if the policies in the state remain the same.”

The question remains, “Why are our youth leaving the state?” When it comes to Ohio’s students, many will mention the current political atmosphere in the state. Gov. DeWine has recently tried to paint the state as being “progressive,” even going so far as spending $50 million on an ad campaign claiming, “Ohio is a progressive state.” This campaign targeted people and businesses outside Ohio, encouraging them to move to Ohio. Ads were on billboards as far away as California and Oregon.

Sorry Gov. DeWine, Ohio is anything but progressive. A look at recently passed bills will testify to the backward movement of the state. Bills pertaining to gun laws, abortion rights, LGBTQ protection, gerrymandering state election districts, and the continued pandering to the oil and gas industry are some reasons our young people are leaving the state.

Take for instance the “stand your ground bill, SB175,” which removes “the requirement for a person to retreat before shooting in self-defense.” This leaves the door wide open to random shootings as it relies on subjective language to determine “a dangerous situation.” Another gun law, SB215, “does away with a requirement to get training and a license to carry a concealed firearm in the state.” Senate Democrats, police groups and gun-control advocates have voiced opposition to the bill. Data from other states with similar bills shows violence does not decrease but actually increases after the passage of similar bills. Bills like these will take Ohio backward to days of the wild, wild west.

Even though Gov. DeWine expressed concerns over the Republican-controlled process to redraw new district maps this year, he signed the new district maps into law. The maps give the GOP an 80% control over district seats even though Ohio’s major parties split with 55% identifying as Republicans and 45% as Democrats. Critics point out this gerrymandering definitively “dilutes the votes of people of color.”

HB110 was signed into law in June 2021; this bill included a “conscience clause” that said “doctors, nurses and even insurance companies can now legally refuse to provide medical care or refuse to pay for medical care if it violates their religious or moral beliefs.” This bill will impact Ohio’s LGBTQ community, and as some doctors point out, it violates the Hippocratic Oath.

The Republican Party in Ohio has, according to Kersha Deibel, CEO of Planned Parenthood, “Made it their job to bury abortion providers under so many TRAP laws (targeting restrictions on abortion providers) that providing and accessing essential healthcare in Ohio has become an obstacle course.” Laws will not stop abortions. I am old enough to remember “coat-hanger abortions.” But obviously Ohio’s Republican Party is OK with turning back the clock, allowing deadly, archaic techniques to be the only choice for women’s healthcare.

Finally, Ohio’s legislature and the ODNR have bent over backward for the oil and gas industry. Ohio has passed law after law to further the expansion of fracking, a process that releases toxic climate-changing gasses and pollutes the environment. At the same time, they pass laws (HB6, SB52, HB401, SB234) that block renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state.

Is Ohio a state that newly graduating STEM students would want to flock to? I highly doubt it. Maybe the governor needs to look at a real progressive state like Vermont or Washington. Maybe he needs to Google the definition of progressive.

The ideology of “progressive” includes social justice, environmentalism, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. People who identify as progressive support social programs such as those developed by President Teddy Roosevelt.

No, Ohio is not a progressive state or a welcoming state for people of color, females, LGBTQ groups or people who want clean air and water. Take a look in the mirror, Ohio. It’s time for a change.

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