It’s reassuring that our state Legislature is taking young Iowans’ exodus from the state so seriously. Really. It’s a vexing problem, and we in ever-graying Iowa count on them to fix it. I sometimes have nightmares of being the youngest person in Iowa. And I’m 50. Everywhere around me are stooped-over, osteoporosis-afflicted people with hollowed-out eyes and shallow voices grabbing me and begging me to work harder so I can take care of them until I’m ready to join them. At least I’m not the only one waking up with the heebie-jeebies about this.
Those firebrand Senate Republicans have boldly responded, suggesting that we forgive these young people’s income taxes, saving them an average of $600 a year, until they become hopelessly hooked on Iowa, which these astute citizen legislators think will happen sometime after their 30th birthdays. It’s real out-of-the-box thinking, as long as the box is circa 1970.
The people who came up with this idea are delirious. They have either forgotten what it is like to be young, or so were so square when they were young that they never blew a windfall on something frivolous Six hundred bucks to a young person in search of a good time – and obviously these expatriates are seeking fun, or they wouldn’t put up with the higher cost of living in cool cities like Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York – is like smoke. It disappears quickly into thin air. I’m not even sure if $600 still buys a good lost weekend – a pair of concert tickets, a night’s stay in a hotel, gas, dinner at some place where the seating isn’t in your car, beer and souvenir T-shirts if you’re lucky. It probably wouldn’t even cover a year’s worth of car insurance premiums.
Though any help lawmakers can give to color the gray around Iowa’s temples is appreciated, they’re overlooking one important rule of courting: Never make your date feel cheap. Six hundred dollars doesn’t buy permanency. To get that, they’re going to have to come up with something like forgiving all student loan payments or giving each college graduate who agrees to stay in the state a Ferrari and offering to pay the insurance premiums, too. Getting $600 is like being taken to McDonald’s on Valentine’s Day.
Not that young Iowans with wanderlust for more culturally diverse cities will turn down the money. They’ll take it and burn through it, and when it’s gone, they’ll still have wanderlust and yearn for the bright city lights. Don’t think that $600 a year is going to buy their loyalty and keep them from running off with that attractive person over there and shouting as they leave, “Congratulations, Iowa, you just got screwed.”
Best of all, this plan from the “conservative” political party would only cost Iowa about $200 million a year.
How many ways does it have to be said? It’s the economy, stupid. The best way to lure young people to Iowa is to make it a place they want to be, with high-paying jobs that attract smart young people like themselves and a quality of life that goes beyond the fact that Iowa is a nice place to settle down and raise a family. A “creative class” won’t be created overnight, but Iowa is on the right course – as long as we don’t take $200 million out of an already thin budget in an attempt that is as desperate as it is futile to bribe young Iowans into staying.