Too Many Young People Leaving Wisconsin
So how can we make this state a place of opportunity?
I often ask myself, how can we be better? This is why I chose the path of public service, because we all should be able to live in a state that is ready to take on the big issues of today, and meet the challenges of the future. To achieve our potential, we should and we must be a state that leads the nation in innovation by providing opportunity to people regardless of zip code. Unfortunately an unfair economy has made it harder for everyday people, while large corporations like Foxconn are handed billions of taxpayer dollars. As long as families and small businesses continue to struggle, we will have a long way to go before we reach our collective greatness.
Many things have held us back, and we now find ourselves in a period of inequality not seen since the Great Depression. This unfair economy, that favors the wealthy, has had a disastrous impact on our schools, workers, public spaces, and the pocket books of everyday people. There is growth in equity, but whose equity? A 12% rate of poverty and rising disparity tell the real story, and have catalogued us as first at being worst in far too many categories. Our governor, with a fortune of broken promises, has made far too many decisions to advance his own political career and the bank accounts of his donors, while Wisconsin has been left behind – leaving an uncertain future for too many of our neighbors in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the state. We have to embrace the idea of a fair shot for everyone in all 72 counties to reverse this devastating trend.
In order for Wisconsin to be a true forward thinking place to live, we have to retain and attract more young talent to lift the burden from previous generations. We have world class institutions and remarkable natural resources, however the reluctance to prioritize modern transportation, education, and a new sustainable economy has pushed many people in my age group to choose other places to call home. In fact, we are the 10th most moved-from state in America. We suffer a large social and economic loss every time someone chooses a Colorado, Washington, or dare I say Illinois over Wisconsin.
We can hold great hope for Wisconsin, if we work for change. There is so much we can do to reverse the negative trends that haunt us, and it starts at the top. We need leadership with a vision to recognize that our most difficult tasks are also our greatest opportunities. Across the nation, clean energy jobs are outpacing job creation in other sectors (at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the economy), and Wisconsin is ripe to invest in growth right in our own backyard. We deserve to live in a healthy community access to quality and affordable healthcare is the norm. Every year that we spend over a billion dollars to keep people in prison is another year we miss out on funding our crumbling infrastructure and underfunded schools. Our elected officials must double down on common sense, commit to growing the middle class, and reject this broken system to finally score a win for working people.
For Wisconsin, it’s time for change. The old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore, and it will take a brand new deal, full of meaningful reforms to bring us to real prosperity. A system that benefits all, and not just a lucky few is possible and it starts with the Essentials of Opportunity:
- Economic Opportunity – Trickle down economics remains a failure, and working people should not live in poverty. Delayed infrastructure projects mean that more would-be workers are out of a job. Our small businesses are struggling while larger companies get the state’s ATM pin. People deserve a living wage, public works are an immediate way to train and bring new people into the workforce, and smart investment in small businesses will go a long way for a lot of people.
- Education – Eliminating barriers that students in high poverty districts face means that all of our children can succeed in great community schools. Two year college should be made available, free to students right out of high school to help them get into careers sooner. Those who chose four year college should be able to do so without the burden of debt, and those with current student loans should be able to refinance them like other types of loans.
- Environment – The natural beauty of Wisconsin attracts tens of millions of visitors per year who spend real money – protecting our natural resources is good for business. From rural communities to urban centers, clean air and drinking water should be an expectation in the 21st century, but CAFOs and lead contamination hinder this reality. Fighting climate change with renewable energy, starting with upgrading our public buildings to be be more energy efficient will help spur job growth in every community and lower our future costs.
We all know that our state works best, and that change can happen, when we work together. Now is the moment to reach for the limits of our ambition. Our urban and rural communities have been divided for too long, but the mutual need for one another should be the nexus so that good fortune may be realized by both. Antiquated politics have stood in the way of our potential for too long, but when we take a chance and bet on progress, we become limitless. Disappointment, while at its peak now, must be met with a renewed drive to transform today’s failures into the triumphs of tomorrow. Be it resolved that in the new year, we will expand opportunity for everyone in Wisconsin and become a state that is ready for the future.
Mandela Barnes previously served as State Assemblyman for Wisconsin’s Assembly District 11.