25 February 2014

Brain Drain Along Leafy Lanes

Something I heard on the radio this morning caught my attention:  Some of the most affluent communities in Long Island and Westchester County have lost as many as half of their young residents since 2000.

A quick search confirmed the accuracy of that news item:  It came from a report authored by Community Housing Innovations, Inc. Executive Director Alexander Roberts.  That report was released today.

Kings Point (home of the US Merchant Marine Academy) and Westhampton were the loss leaders on Long Island, losing 58 and 57 percent, respectively, of their 25- to 34-year-olds.  However, those changes were dwarfed by those in the Westchester County community of Rye, which has 63 percent fewer members of that age cohort than it had fourteen years ago.

Now, I normally don't concern myself much with what's happening in such upscale enclaves.  However, it occurs to me that the phenomenon on which Roberts reported may have something to do with the overall crisis facing recent college graduates nationwide.

I am not an economist or even a sociologist, so I'll grant that my ideas about the topic are those of an amateur, at best.  But here goes:  Young people with high-paying jobs or successful businesses often moved into those tony suburbs.  Some had spouses and kids in tow; others planned on bringing them to their new homes.   Such young people tended to stay and raise their families:  Many of the middle-aged and older people living in those places now were those young people of a generation or two ago.

But now, as anyone who got his or her JD or MBA since 2007 knows, the positions with six-figure starting salaries have all but gone of the way of cheap pensiones on la Rue de Rivoli.  Even those who are getting such jobs are, as often as not, saddled with large student loan payments.  So it's not even possible for them to work their fingers to the bone for a few years to pay off their debts, let alone save a down payment for a house.

The disappearance of the young from affluent suburban communities is partly responsible for nearby lower-income communities gaining residents in those age groups--or not losing them as quickly as their wealthy neighbors.  That, of course, is driving up housing prices in "affordable" communities like New Rochelle, Yonkers and Wyandanch.

If any of these trends is being mirrored in suburban areas of other large metropolises, as I suspect they are, it can't be good for either the young people or the future of the communities into which they don't settle--or, for that matter, even the ones they do settle.  Affluent communities typically rely on a lot of tax revenue, much of it paid by younger people who paid more money for their homes (which are thus appraised at higher values) to maintain roads and environmental quality, run schools and libraries and do the other things such communities typically do.  Those towns typically don't have businesses larger than stores or industries of any sort.  So nearly all of the tax burden falls on their residents, especially the young.

And, of course, the services of less-affluent communities will be used more, and there will be less money to pay for them.  Eventually, some of the young, as well as old, will leave--the communities, and in some cases, their professions, which don't pay what they'd hoped.