Commentary First State’s future demands investments in young residents

By Sen. Kyle Evans Gay and Sen. Sarah McBride
Posted 10/22/21

To succeed, Delaware needs to attract young workers.

It is the skills and potential of a growing, diverse workforce — not corporate handouts — that will help us attract and retain …

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Commentary First State’s future demands investments in young residents


To succeed, Delaware needs to attract young workers.

It is the skills and potential of a growing, diverse workforce — not corporate handouts — that will help us attract and retain businesses here in the First State. In turn, the well-paying jobs that businesses bring will expand our tax base and better fund services for all Delawareans. To build our workforce, Delaware must invest not only in jobs but in people, specifically the next generation of workers who, joining with neighbors of all ages, will help energize communities and foster new ideas that innovate industries and improve our state.

By empowering young adults — and supporting them in starting a family, if they so choose — we will drive the next wave of economic growth and create a virtuous cycle of prosperity that will provide better lives for us all.

Policymakers agree about the need to attract and retain young workers, but they often miss the mark on how to meet that goal. Contrary to the stereotypes, young people today don’t simply care about pingpong tables in the workplace or the best place to get avocado toast. Young workers often quickly become young parents, and with the skyrocketing cost of raising a child, especially from birth through age 5, the financial question families are asking is not merely, “Where will I pay the lowest taxes?”

What younger generations value are fair-paying jobs and communities willing to invest in their well-being, so they can pay their bills without sacrificing their physical and mental health. We believe Delaware’s future success requires a comprehensive cradle-to-career support system that brings down costs facing families, improves outcomes for children of all backgrounds and makes Delaware a more attractive state in which to live and work.

Study after study has shown that the winners of the 21st-century economy are those places able to attract, retain and cluster skilled workers. That’s why states across the country are vigorously competing to hold on to talent, as well as attract newcomers looking to build meaningful lives and careers.

It’s a contest Delaware isn’t winning — yet.

Delaware’s ‘brain drain’

The Social Capital Project of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee recently found that Delaware has the second highest level of “brain drain” in the nation just behind North Dakota and only slightly ahead of South Dakota. But most Delawareans don’t need to read a congressional report to know that far too many parents are watching their children leave for opportunities elsewhere, while those who remain are left to compete for jobs that still pay too little and provide few benefits.

If Delaware hopes to attract and retain young workers, we can begin by lowering the financial toll they experience when they start a family with guaranteed paid family and medical leave. We can foster savings and improve outcomes by lowering the cost of child care and expanding access to pre-K. And we must continue our efforts to make sure every child in Delaware — no matter his or her ZIP code — is afforded a strong public education that prepares them for the future.

President Joe Biden understands the problems facing young families and the ways to address them. His Build Back Better agenda, if enacted in its entirety, would lower the costs incurred by families through a national paid leave program, affordable child care, universal pre-K and a permanent child tax credit.

Those are the policies families value most. And no matter what happens in Congress with President Biden’s proposal, for Delaware to compete, we must be ready to both pass any parts of his agenda left behind and build on the progress of what will surely be a historic investment in our nation’s parents and children.

As we build a bridge to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delaware has an opportunity to position itself as a state willing to meet people where they are by enacting long-overdue policies for the working families of today and tomorrow.

Delawareans deserve a cradle-to-career support system that lifts up our neighbors and positions the First State as a competitive option for families who will drive our economy in the 21st century.

We are committed to creating a prosperous future for our state and that starts with investing in young Delawareans.

Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Talleyville, serves as chair of the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee. Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, serves as chair of the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.