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Would you believe that two years after its founding in 2007, 20% of the original members of the Generation Iowa Commission, the state commission studying why the Next Generation is leaving Iowa, had waved good-bye and left Iowa?  

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Around Iowa, community, business and political leaders repeatedly ask a simple question, “What makes some places able to attract the Next Generation, and why is Iowa so poor at it?” 

The question is born of desperation. Towns are dying. Their young people are leaving, as less than one in five counties show long-term growth in population at all. After nearly three years of research, fact-based analysis and surveying, the answer is clear. The majority of Iowa’s next generation wants to stay, but the availability of good jobs determines whether they can. 

Simply put, Iowa has not created enough good jobs to keep our young people in the state.  How bad is Iowa’s labor market? In 2008, Iowa Workforce Development found that just 12% of available jobs required a bachelor’s degree, while 33% of young Iowans are earning such a degree. Sadly, the average county in Iowa in 2008 had fewer than four jobs available that required a graduate degree. To further the problem, these professional jobs typically pay 15 to 20% less than surrounding states.

Young people know that Iowa’s policy is failing them, and they have turned into a generation of economic migrants.

It’s About Jobs!
How do we win young Iowans? Here are the top 3 items that young Iowans, aged 18 to 35, say they want in deciding to stay in Iowa.

  1. Affordability of living in Iowa
  2. Available job in my field
  3. Competitive salary and Possibility of Professional Advancement (tie)

(Data from the Iowa Department of Economic Development)

Iowans deserve to know that our current policy is failing in every one of these areas, driving young people to leave. The resulting break-up of extended families and individual communities is a failure of state-level policy.  

Affordability: Iowa, once a low cost-of-living state, has lost our regional advantage. Today, Iowa is just average, ranking #5 in our ten-state Upper Midwest region. 

Available Jobs: It is no surprise that jobs have been lost since the last gubernatorial election. What is stunning, and unacceptable, is that those job losses have taken place in the sectors that make up the backbone of our long-term economies.     

Iowa's Job Growth by Sector

Since 2006, the total number of non-farm jobs is down by 3%. Construction jobs are down 14%. Manufacturing jobs are down 12%, with durable goods manufacturing especially hard hit, down 18%. Traditional “white collar” roles, like professional services and information technology jobs, are down 4% since 2006. 

Of course, the Governor has put a lot of people to work.  State government is 5% larger since 2006  (Are you at least 5% more satisfied with Iowa’s government?).  Government grows, the private sector shrinks, and Iowa taxpayers are being crushed by a burden of big government like no generation before.

Career Options: The Iowa Dream is not about any old job, it is about a fulfilling career that allows us to provide for and enjoy our families and communities. Those stable, long-term jobs are more rare than ever. The Kauffman Foundation now lists Iowa as a “Bottom 10” state in its rankings for “New Economy Index,” “Good Jobs” and “Job Mobility” (a measure of how likely it is to find a new job). Clearly, the Iowa economy is going backwards.

By the way, many people assume young Iowans are bored with the pace and amenities of our state.  How can we compete without mountains, nightclubs or big city attractions? Not true. “A vibrant night-life” and “Cultural events” ranked as the two least important items to young Iowans, well behind the economic metrics. Young Iowans usually praise quality of life here.

To the average young Iowan, it’s about jobs. But many Next Generation Iowans would rather vote with their feet than vote at the ballot box. If we turn that around, those who have stayed can create a great state where the Iowa Dream is alive and well.

What are your thoughts on reversing the Job trend in Iowa?   Please share them with us here.

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