Read every story and column in the Capital-Star’s ‘Brain Drain’ series

By: - March 23, 2019 6:30 am

Students leave the Bonnell Building at the Community College of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Pennsylvania is getting grayer by the day.

Between 2017 and 2025, the number of working-age Pennsylvanians (those between 20 and 64) is expected to decline by 1.4 percent, according to the state Independent Fiscal Office. At the same time, the number of people 65 and older is expected to grow by a whopping 23.4 percent.

An older population means Pennsylvania’s budget will be tested in ways it hasn’t before, with rising healthcare costs and a shrinking tax base.

So it should come as no surprise that state lawmakers are trying to keep and attract younger workers to Pennsylvania.

The Capital-Star has spent the past week looking at this issue from top to bottom. Below, you’ll find links to every story and every column that our staff devoted to this important public policy issue. If you have your own brain drain story to tell, email us.

Day I: What keeps young people in Pennsylvania? We set the table and add a few suggestions. 

How do you keep the kids in Pa.? We’re going to spend this week finding out | Monday Morning Coffee

“The start of the third, full week of March finds your favorite online news outlet taking an in-depth look at a problem that nearly everyone in Pennsylvania state government, the business community, academia, and, we’re pretty sure, that guy we ran into in Giant yesterday in the bread aisle, agrees is a enormous and intractable public policy problem:

Namely, figuring out why Pennsylvania, which is saddled with one of the oldest populations in this great land of ours, can’t seem to keep the kids down on the farm.

For the next three days, in a series of news articles, commentary pieces, and videos, we’ll be taking a holistic look at Pennsylvania’s brain-drain. And, hopefully, we’ll have a few recommendations on what to do about it.”

Family, cost and community: What keeps young people in Pennsylvania? (Stephen Caruso)

“Mark Yankowski has spent most of his life in Luzerne County in northeast Pennsylvania. He attended college in Wilkes-Barre, just 15 minutes from his hometown.

While the 31-year-old Yankowski, who works for a home construction company, has stayed put, at least half of his friends haven’t.

Yankowski doesn’t overthink their choice to leave. He figures familiarity breeds scorn.

“It does not matter what area of the country, you always hear about [the] negatives first from people about the location: ‘This sucks, this is bad, this is the worst,’” he said. ‘It’s not just here. It’s everywhere.’”

When we end the brain-drain, we become the Keystone State again | Opinion

“Very early in its history, Pennsylvania earned its nickname — the Keystone State — at a time when it was the cultural, political, and economic center of the fledgling United States. Today, it is hardly living up to its name. To do so it will need to make some bold moves, including trusting and investing in its young people.

“It is not too hard to come up with a list of things that are potentially holding Pennsylvania back. To start, the regressive tax system, where the tax burden is felt most by poor and working-class Pennsylvanians. A 6 percent sales tax (7 percent in Allegheny County and 8 percent in Philadelphia) and a 3.07 percent flat income tax rate generate most of its revenues.

“Despite 10 years of continuous increases in tolls, Pennsylvania has one of the worst highway systems in the country and yet, for the privilege of driving across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one must pay $50.40 ($36.20 if  you’re using E-ZPass).”

Day 2: Why they’re leaving, and why some experts say it’s not a problem. 

Don’t fear the brain drain: Why some economists aren’t worried about Pennsylvania’s youth loss (Elizabeth Hardison)

“In the 1990s, a business development group in Pittsburgh issued a casting call for a character named Border Guard Bob, who was to star in a series of public service announcements broadcast throughout Western Pennsylvania.

“At the time, the Pittsburgh region was recovering from a one-two hit of recessions in the early 1980s. The loss of steel jobs led to massive out-migration of young people and their families. A decade later, local college graduates were still leaving the area in droves.

“Enter: Border Guard Bob.

“A concept for one of the ads is described in a Post-Gazette report from 1999. In it, the uniformed sentinel was to stand at the Pennsylvania border, where he’d intercept young people trying to cross state lines.”

Brain Boost: Here’s how Pa. can keep and retain young talent | Opinion

“This spring, college students across the country will graduate to the tune of 1 million associate degrees, 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, 780,000 master’s degrees, and 182,000 doctoral degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These graduates will enter the workforce armed with tremendous knowledge and will continue driving growth collectively for the national economy.

“But cities and states now find themselves in fierce competition for college graduates. Which areas locally and regionally are poised to capitalize by attracting these talented future workers?

“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania continues to fall further behind. When measuring population growth from 2010 to 2018, Pennsylvania ranks 44th out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.”

Day 3: What they’re doing everywhere else – and what Pa. can learn from other states

This is why some counties are powerhouses for innovation – and others are not | Opinion

“By the time the application window closed, Amazon had received 238 proposals from cities and regions throughout North America looking to become the second headquarters of the behemoth tech company.

“Amazon invited proposals especially from places that looked a lot like its native Seattle: metro areas with more than a million people; a stable and business-friendly environment; communities that could “think big and creatively” about real estate options; and a location that would attract and retain technical talent.

“Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were in the running for Amazon’s HQ2, but ultimately lost out. Still, “Every experience you go through makes you a little better for the next one,” he said. “There is justification your staff got better and the region is better positioned for the next one,” David Black, of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber/CREDC, told PennLive last year.

“In the race to attract high-tech companies, what can cities and regions do to become centers of innovation? At the moment, some places are clearly in the lead.”

Day 4: Every proposal now making the rounds to keep young people in Pennsylvania (Stephen Caruso, Elizabeth Hardison and Sarah Anne Hughes)

“It should come as no surprise that state lawmakers are trying to keep and attract younger workers to Pennsylvania. But what’s the best way to do that? Here are a few of the proposals on the table.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.