Hundreds of Long Island students have accepted their high school diplomas this week. We’ve sent them off into the world armed with the best advice and pearls of wisdom we have to offer. In doing so, we can’t help but hope this isn’t goodbye.
The Class of 2018 students are each pursuing his or her own version of the American Dream. What defines that dream can vary greatly — whether it’s studying medicine at Stony Brook University, learning a trade or joining the military. The question we have to ask is this: When these students are envisioning their futures, how many picture himself or herself staying on Long Island?
While parents and teachers are taking pride — and deserved pats on the back — in getting this year’s seniors through their first 12 years of schooling, it doesn’t stop there. The older generation and its leadership must continue to take action to transform Long Island into an attractive and affordable place for young adults to live.
“We spend a lot of money educating our kids here,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) acknowledged in his 2018 State of the County address. “Too many of them have left for other parts of the country, where they are helping to power their regional economies. We have to stop that.”
For the first time in two decades, there is a glimmer of hope that the brain drain trend is starting to slow. The population of people between ages 20 and 34 living in Nassau and Suffolk counties has increased by 7.6 percent from 2010 to 2015 — for the first time since 1990 — according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Population Estimates, as stated in a June 2017 report by the Long Island Association. LIA is a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies, programs and projects that benefit Long Island and support economic development and infrastructure investments.
However, there’s still 100,000 fewer residents in the 20 to 34 age group on Long Island than in 1990. So, there’s still a ways to go in attracting and keeping bright, young professionals on Long Island.
To this end, Suffolk County Legislature’s Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) proposed legislation June 22 that would instruct Suffolk’s Department of Economic Development and Planning to create a pilot program to address the issues causing millennials to leave for less expensive areas. While there are few specific details available on this proposal, Gregory has pointed to other municipalities creating programs that help young adults with student debt purchase homes while still paying down their loans.
This is but one step in the right direction. As the Class of 2018 disperses, their parents’ work shifts from helping with science projects and math homework to advocating for local change that will improve the quality of life young adults can expect on Long Island. Better entry-level job opportunities that offer competitive salaries without requiring travel into the city are needed, and more affordable housing and assistance to put the down payment on a house to help start a family are also important.
Take a few days to rejoice and celebrate with the graduating Class of 2018, but there is much work to be done creating a brighter, more youthful future for Long Island.