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Poll: Millennial Outmigration — Major Headache or Minor Problem?

What can be done to keep millennials in New Jersey — and should communities and the state spend scarce funds to make it happen?

A year ago, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association issued a report that found millennials, who are the youngest workers today, were leaving New Jersey at the highest levels of any generation. The organization followed that up on Tuesday with a daylong conference on millennials and the workforce.

The NJBIA’s president and CEO Michelle Siekerka said the outmigration of those born between 1982 and 1999, who are currently 18 to 35, is a major challenge “screaming out” for solutions because this group is the largest generation currently in the workforce and is the future workforce. Businesses need millennial workers to thrive, and will need them to survive as older workers retire.

There were many reasons suggested for the exodus of millennials, some of them financial — it’s too expensive to live in New Jersey and they are carrying high student debt loads. Others are social —millennials do not want to live in suburban bedroom communities where they have to drive to work, to shop, and to entertainment.

When it comes to preventing millennials from fleeing the state and attracting more young workers …

What should New Jersey do?

  • Make New Jersey’s colleges more attractive and more affordable. A 2015 study by the Urban Institute found New Jersey’s public colleges are the fourth most expensive in the nation. Students take out more loans, which makes it hard for them to afford living here when they graduate. Or it sends them to other states, where they find work and decide to stay.

  • Build more affordable housing and stop rising property taxes. While the rise in property taxes has slowed, it still averages more than 2 percent a year and was more than $8,500 on the typical home last year. New Jersey needs to do more to encourage the construction of affordable homes and clamp down harder on tax increases

  • Improve the cities. Studies have shown that millennials want to live in vibrant communities where they can walk to work, shops, have access to recreation and entertainment — or walk to public transportation to take them to these places. Jersey City and Hoboken have thriving neighborhoods because they have created places that are inviting to millennials. Newark is moving in that direction, too. More cities need to plan for and promote development of walkable, affordable neighborhoods with strong public transportation. The state should direct funds toward these efforts.

  • All of the above. Directing energies at any single problem will not be enough. It will take a Herculean effort in all these areas and more to make our cities and towns more inviting places where millennials will want to settle down, and where they can afford to.

  • Nothing. This is no big deal. NJBIA’s study found the state experienced a net loss of fewer than 60,000 people of this age group over a span of eight years; that’s less than 1 percent of our total population and hardly something to worry about.

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