by Robert Mann
In a country with greater labor mobility than any other place in the world, why would any ambitious young person want to remain in Louisiana? Almost every other state promises more opportunity and a better quality of life.
We’re near the bottom in economic opportunity. We’re worst, or among the worst, in almost every category of child well-being. If it were simply a matter of economics, the right decision for most of our young people would be to hit the road.
Almost 30 years ago, in January 1985, I left Shreveport for Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill. I was sure I’d never return. I was off to seek fortune and fame, doubting that such a backward place as Louisiana could offer me that. The state seemed devoid of opportunity, vision and tolerance.
After a few years of living among the well-educated, well-traveled, well-heeled Washington crowd, I grew homesick. I realized I was a stranger in a foreign land. I missed Louisiana’s food, its music, its lakes and streams and its unique and beguiling culture.
More than anything, I missed its people and their sincere hospitality. It took leaving to teach me that Louisiana was as genuine as Washington was superficial. I wanted to be among people who were just as dedicated to building community as their careers. My homesickness and love for a Louisiana girl brought me home.
Yet, in the 21 years since I returned, one could argue that our problems have multiplied. For example, we’re last among states with jobs requiring a college degree. Many educated young people who want to stay here – and most do – realize they simply cannot.
Perhaps, like me, you have teenagers. If so, I suspect you fear that it won’t be long before yours are seeking jobs in places like Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles or New York. Truth is, shouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they be better off?
Every year, thousands of our young people give up on Louisiana. They stuff their college diplomas in cardboard boxes and shove off in pursuit of greater opportunity. They escape, taking with them their creativity, their energy and their incomes. They raise their families elsewhere. Louisiana is diminished because of their absence.
You and I know what it will take to keep our kids home – well-paying jobs and the sense that the state is alive and thriving, not slowly dying.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Legislature and whoever is our next governor will have much to say about whether our economy grows enough to persuade our young people to stay. They’ll decide if our education system can prepare them for a highly competitive 21st century economy. They’ll decide if our environment is cleaner and if our laws encourage greater equality. They’ll preside over the revival of our infrastructure, or its continuing decline.
But you and I know we don’t have time to find out how this story ends. If we want to save this state, we must act quickly to persuade our children that Louisiana is a place to build a future. We can’t wait for Jindal, or the next governor, to do what generations of leaders have been unable or unwilling to do.
So, here’s what I’ll tell my two children, both of whom will enter high school later this year:
Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles might provide you a better job, but Louisiana needs you more. You want to save the world? Well, you can do that here. Sure, there are hungry children to be rescued in Africa and India, but your hometown has plenty of them, too.
Stay here, find like-minded people, organize them, expand your influence, demand change, but don’t give up on this amazing, beautiful place. Its good people – flawed as we might be – are worth your efforts.
There may be no place in America that needs you more. We have so many resources, so much latent opportunity, and you have the minds to discover it and the talents to unleash it.
My generation has failed you, so I understand if you must leave. But if you do go, don’t lose touch. Live, learn, explore and some day bring back what you’ve learned and put it to work making our government and other institutions worthy of the decency and goodness of their people.
Reprinted with permission: http://bobmannblog.com/