Ask the leavers why they’re leaving

Kristen Korey

As a young, educated and soon-to-be professional, I often catch myself in a bit of a dilemma – after graduation, do I stay here in Iowa where I have lived my entire life to work and raise a family, or should I pack up my things and move someplace else?

Over the past several years, my husband and I (both originally from Iowa) have asked ourselves this question time and time again – what should we do?

Since Gov. Chet Culver has taken it upon himself, since his inauguration, to find out why people in my age group facing this particular dilemma are making the decision to leave the state, I feel I have the obligation, as a young, educated and soon-to-be professional, to explain why the mass exodus is occurring. I will first give my personal account of what I have been through and then explain why I think this seems to also be the case for others in my age category.

Originally from Fort Dodge, I was raised by working-class parents who struggled daily to provide a good life for my brother and me. I can remember being in elementary school and having both my parents and teachers tell me I needed to leave and go someplace better so I could “make something of myself.”

Throughout high school, this same mentality prevailed among my peers, my parents, my teachers and, finally, myself. My friends and I spent a good part of our senior year of high school telling each other how we would all “get the heck out of Dodge” and never return. I left for college and never looked back.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when I began to question this mentality. During that academic year, I was introduced to a program at Iowa State with an emphasis on trying to keep young college graduates in the state – the program was titled the Life in Iowa program.

For the first time throughout my K-12 and college career, I was enrolled in a class that talked about what it really means to be part of a community. The program taught there was hope for Iowa’s future . and more importantly, I would be an integral part of that future.

In the past several years, the program that completely changed my opinions on the importance of staying in Iowa has dwindled to almost nothing due to lack of funding from the state and the university. The program, in essence, was labeled a lost cause because it wasn’t making the university any money . even though almost every one of my fellow students from my Life in Iowa cohort live, work and have made the choice to reside in Iowa and make a difference.

So here is my opinion on why young, educated and soon-to-be professionals are leaving the state:

Reason #1: Our officials pay lip service to the importance of keeping young adults here, yet they refuse to invest in us. Over the past several months, I have been engaged in the tediously stressful job-search process. Recently, I have applied for a couple of state/governmental jobs and was, in fact, offered one of them, only to find that it paid little more than I would make if I had just graduated high school and joined the workforce right from there. Disgusted, I decided to ask other job searchers in my situation how the process was going for them. To my utter amazement, their situation seemed to be the same as mine – either: 1) choose to accept a professional job in Iowa and live on handouts and food stamps, or 2) move elsewhere.

Reason #2: Instead of asking those who are already young professionals (and thus already have landed jobs in Iowa) what they would like to see happen with the future of Iowa, how about asking those of us who are instead trying to decide where to go? Would it not make more sense to ask those of us who are still in high school, undergraduate and graduate school what we want to see happen in Iowa in the years to come?

Reason #3: Being “young” in Iowa means being in one’s 40s, therefore, the 18- to 39-year-olds in the state are seen as useless. Whatever happened to youth being classified as those under 40? What happens in Iowa is that this entire demographic disappears. Unfortunately, those of us with the intelligence, drive and ability to make a difference in the future of our beloved state become invisible in policy-related matters and in the business environment of Iowa. With our state and local officials failing to invest in us and thus ignoring our situations, we are forced to move to areas of the world where youth is embraced.

I truly believe that simply by investing in those of us who still believe there is a future for Iowa and its communities, our smaller towns and cities could remain vibrant and inviting communities. In the next few months, I, like many others in my situation, will be making the choice of where I would like to call home. What do you think – should I choose to live on food stamps and handouts or move elsewhere?

Kristen Korey is a senior in sustainable agriculture.