Kentucky must give kids a reason not to leave

Published 9:09 am Thursday, January 11, 2018


Contributing columnist

According to the “2017 National Movers Study,” Kentucky ranks eighth as the most moved-from state. We can chalk some of this up to retirees moving to warmer climates, but I fear that most of our movers are not retired, but looking elsewhere for opportunity.

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There are two basic reasons why young people leave their birth places: expense and opportunity.

Four of the top ten moved-from states are in the northeast: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Unsurprising, as the cost of living in the northeast continues to rise above the prospective incomes of young people. I moved my own family out of the northeast soon after it became apparent that I could not supply the kind of childhood there that I could in other places. I had a job and opportunities weren’t lacking, but even the opportunities that were available could not afford the humble lifestyle I wanted my family to have.

Expenses, however, are not the reason for Kentucky’s exodus. I think young people in Kentucky feel opportunity is the lacking element in our great commonwealth. And I’ve concluded this as a result of my daily conversations with teenagers.

The most daunting thing, however, is the type of young adults who are considering leaving. It’s our gifted kids, our up-and-coming ambitious children, who don’t see the point in staying. They are progressive, they observe their surroundings and make conclusions. And what they are concluding is that they can be more productive and successful other places.

These kids look around in their communities and see stagnation. They see that our government doesn’t value education; they don’t support teachers. They see citizens fighting for coal, and know that this is a timebomb; that the world is moving in another direction.

They hear the fight against a minimum wage hike, and they know the value of a dollar; it doesn’t take much for them to calculate the kind of lifestyle that one can obtain with inflation and stagnant wages.

They experience the loss of loved ones to opioid addiction, and they watch as their peers get sucked into the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. And they think “not my children.”

So, they decide to leave.

These kids thirst for knowledge. They take AP courses and read the local papers. They learn in AP environmental science that global warming is not a hoax. And in AP U.S. History, they learn about the issues in our history that some of us grapple with on a daily basis.

Kentucky needs these kids. We need them to grow here and stay here. But as long as we continue to push back against social and scientific progress, we will continue to lose these great minds to other places.

We moved to Kentucky because it’s beautiful. While driving across the country in 2006, we stopped in Kentucky and discovered a landscape and a people in which we wanted to immerse ourselves. We were doubted by most people back home, but they just didn’t understand — most of them still don’t. We call Kentucky “our hidden gem” because the stereotypes simply do not match the people we know and the place we live. Our fear then was that too many people would move here and ruin the quaint, quiet lifestyle we were striving for. It seems now that our fear has switched courses.

I consider part of my job to be guiding students in the discovery of the value of community, in pride for local culture and progress. I try to portray the ideal that things can always get better, and it’s the job of the next generation to ensure this betterment.

I just hope that other teachers are doing the same and encouraging our best and brightest that we need them here, that if we are going to progress towards goals of common good, we need them in the forefront pushing for those changes.

Megan Berketis is a high-school English teacher. She lives in Danville.