Mississippi can’t afford to lose its young people

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Mississippi is running out of time. It must find out why millennials are leaving the state at the highest rate in the United States. And it must find out quickly.

Many millennials leave, not for a job, but for a place they want to live. And those who are leaving for a job are winding up in states where wages are higher. CompTIA, a technology industry trade association, last year ranked Mississippi 50th in average tech wages. That translates into about half of Mississippi State University College of Engineering graduates leaving the state.

“After my wife and I married in summer 2016, we realized job opportunities, specifically in her field, were limited at best,” Tyler Hill, of Hurley, told Mississippi Today. “She is a teacher of the deaf. Nationally, school districts and legislatures tend to spend less on special needs programs; in Mississippi, spending in this field is abysmal. The lack of jobs and growth opportunity forces us out of the state.”

The other side of that coin, though, is Mississippi is a very affordable place to live. See what kind of home $100,000 will get you in San Francisco, or Boston, or Miami.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Millennials will be by far the largest segment of the population still in the market for housing and other big-ticket items. And by the time they hit 35 or so, they’re likely to be where they’ll stay.

And of course we want them to be here. Most would rather be near their families, near their roots.

In a lot of ways, Mississippi makes that tough. Millennials have the highest rate of acceptance of same-sex marriage. But Mississippi’s leaders do not share that acceptance or we would not have HB1523.

We don’t have the public transportation options they want, and yet, we can’t even decide on whether our transportation system needs to be upgraded nor how to pay for it if it does.

We have few walkable, bikeable communities, another option they favor, and few millennials can afford housing prices in the communities that offer those amenities.

And, we have Mississippi’s reputation for intolerance, a reputation in many respects undeserved, but one that is referenced by online cranks and legislators who settle disagreement with the refrain, “if you don’t like it go back where you came from.”

Shivon Hess left after four years in Mississippi.

“Incredible racism and bigotry. There’s a bit of that everywhere, but it’s so entrenched in Mississippi,” said Hess.

We have to stand up to the racists, those who spew hate. People of like minds must stand together and erase this stain on our state once and for all.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Mississippi can win this battle. We just elected millennial mayors from vastly different political points of view. We have a Future Caucus of millennials in our Legislature. It plans a millennial summit every year.

That summit is a great idea. We hope the state leadership offers this bipartisan group encouragement and support. They, and all millennials, have ours.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.