“I’m so in love with my little kids. They’ve redefined my life and reminded me of the importance of family.” As my friend Jeff Sage uttered these words he was literally glowing.
This is the way most parents feel; Jeff just happened to frame it beautifully. He and his wife Lindsay have opted to turn down more lucrative career choices to back up their commitment to their kids. Such loyalty is as old as history.
Why is it, then, that we have ended up in a situation where the Gen Xers will be the first generation in centuries to fall behind the financial advancements of their parents? Surely we as Boomers have every bit of affection for our kids as Jeff and Lindsay so clearly demonstrate. And yet their future got away from us, just as surely as it got away from them.
While most of the developing world grows progressively younger, Canada is becoming a graying nation and is carrying London along with it. If this is a foreboding portend concerning the future of the city’s youth it is only a realistic assessment supported by data and experienced in numerous cities across the country.
What is a city like London to do? The very first thing is to acknowledge the development in the first place. While the loss of youthful cohorts might well be the city’s greatest challenge, it is barely acknowledged in established circles. There remains this sense that difficult economic times will only be temporary. Jobs will return, and a better future for the young along with them. It is now apparent that such a development doesn’t seem likely. The London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) has been researching this trend for the last few years and presenting their findings to anyone who would listen. Sadly, hardly anyone read their conclusions.
As it stands, we are a community likely to lose many of the Gen Xers and Millennials. It’s what happening in other cities around the region as well, although studies seem to show we are losing them at a faster rate. The best we can do is at least take their challenges seriously and see as a community if there are further incentives we might offer to make London the place they want to be.
Looking around the country we discover that the city of Vancouver provides toolkits online that offer resources to those wishing to improve the quality of life for their younger citizens. Richmond, B.C. has its own youth foundation, whose investments are targeted at keeping keen young minds and skills within the community.
In New Brunswick, the government has set up a Population Growth Secretariat to devise strategies that would keep more Gen Xers and Millennials from leaving, and repatriate New Brunswickers working elsewhere.. The office has just started its work and has yet to develop any programs or policies. The province also offered graduates up to $10,000 relief on their student debts if they stayed. Manitoba, inspired by the example, has offered a $25,000 tuition rebate. In St. John, thousands of dollars are being offered as signing bonuses to those who remain.
Newfoundland’s Memorial University experienced a total renewal of enrolment simply by offering cheaper tuition fees. Figures show that the number of young Maritimers flocking to Memorial has jumped nine fold to more than 13,000 since the province began lowering tuition fees seven years ago.
London has its own group called Emerging Leaders, whose sole purpose is to not only encourage the city’s keen young minds to settle in London but also to discover new methods to incentivize ways in which young entrepreneurs might receive venture capital, or start-up costs from community investments, as well as urging these new businesses professionals to hire locally. Their main task might well be to get the exodus of key young professionals onto the various agendas of key groups such as city council, Chamber of Commerce, educational institutions, and small business associations.
The loss of youthful talent is likely to persist, but we can reduce the levels and intensity of the decline. But first the London community has to ask itself a clear question: If the future of the city is in its youth, what is the future of youth? It’s a simple question loaded with implications. How did we let things reach the point where the most educated generation in history can’t find work, buy a home, or even afford to get married? How did this never really get higher up the agenda at City Hall, at the Chamber, the media, or even at our educational institutions? If we seriously wish to keep what talent we possess, now is the time to ask such questions and there must be the political and financial will to reverse decades of neglect.
London needs to consolidate its spirit around the belief that our young people can write the best books ever written, compose the greatest songs, or perform the best plays. The most innovative businesses can come from their creative minds. And along the way they might just lead us to finding the solutions to climate change, child poverty, or, yes, even the excessive desire for materialism. There is better yet to be done, and it can be accomplished by them.
To be sure, there are thousands of Boomers living in great need and struggling to survive – poverty is a cross-generational issue. But as a cohort the Boomers largely flourished. They will have to reverse the course of supporting political voices that have institutionalized this generational dysfunction. We wore that T-shirt and it didn’t work out.
It’s time for the generations to have a serious talk, to find a way to put the future ahead of the present. Collectively we will have to vote differently, fight poverty, and financially commit to a future public space for all.