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    A Times Editorial

    Woo 20-year-olds by giving them reasons to stay

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 4, 2001

    Examine the U.S. Census figures for North Pinellas County, and you will understand one of the reasons why job creation and economic vitality must be top priorities for local governments.

    There is a message in those figures for parents, too.

    The census shows that the number of children in North Pinellas is growing. For example, the population of children in Tarpon Springs has grown by 12 percent since 1990, in Oldsmar by up to 79 percent, in Seminole by 70 percent, in Clearwater by 26 percent.

    But in much of North Pinellas, the number of residents in their 20s and early 30s dropped significantly during the decade.

    Why would North Pinellas be regarded as a desirable community for children, but not for twentysomethings?

    People in their 20s and early 30s who were interviewed by Times reporters were pretty clear about the reasons. They can't find good jobs. They can't afford the housing prices. And there isn't enough to do here that interests them, whether their interest is in entertainment, recreation or educational opportunities.

    One of the messages of the 2000 census is that in North Pinellas, we must work harder to create the kinds of communities where children will want to live when they grow up. Children are a community's legacy. They are its future workers and leaders. Do we want to be the sort of place that rears its children, then packs them off to lead productive, prosperous lives somewhere else?

    Census figures showed that, despite the rising numbers of children, Pinellas County -- all of Florida, in fact -- is getting older. The county's median age is going up, lifted by a big influx of new residents in their late 40s and 50s. Already, social scientists and politicians are talking about how that trend toward an older population will affect local priorities in the future. It is easy to see how the needs of younger residents could be overlooked in the scramble to provide for the predominant population of seniors.

    In these trends is buried another message, this one for those twentysomething and thirtysomething parents who have young children at home, but who tend to be inconsistent voters and take little interest in public issues: If you want your children to stay here when they grow up, you will have to become a more outspoken and influential segment of the population. You will have to use your vote and your voice to persuade decisionmakers to build the kind of community your children will need as young adults.

    That means creating more professional job opportunities for well-educated young people who have no interest in the service-sector jobs that are most common in tourist-oriented Pinellas. It means promoting the construction of housing in a price range that people in their 20s can afford. And it means seizing opportunities to create more educational and recreational resources for young adults.

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