An Aging Ohio Drowning out the Voice of the Young

The Plain Dealer is running a weeklong feature this week about Ohio’s aging workforce because Ohio is really old and getting older by the day. Something like one in five people are over 60, or will be soon, making Ohio’s workforce one of the oldest in the country.

This is not news to me; I’m 29 and I live in northeast Ohio. I open the newspaper and I’m bombarded by Beltone ads. The growth industries here are funeral homes and hospitals. The “young” crop of politicians here begins in their mid-forties.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes I find it very frustrating. Young people have relatively less political power in places like this. I think it’s hard to deny that under these circumstances, there’s necessarily less looking to the future, more conserving the old ways. I think there a fear that comes with it, a resistance to change. Who wants to change jobs 5 years (10 years?) before retirement right? Why shake things up when if you play along there’ll be enough money to send jr. out of state of college, maybe retire down South?

The really troubling part about all of it, is that it’s a self-perpetuating imbalance, or that’s my theory. This relatively older demographic can reinforce a set of values that sort of chafes on your young, optimistic soul. It’s dismaying, for me anyway, that I live in a place where the shared values that maintain that there’s nothing wrong with using an offensive racial caricature as a mascot for the region. The kind that says “no one will ever want to use trains for transportation.”  The kind that votes to add a constitutional amendment to ban happy couples from getting married.

If I had to pin down one thing I like the least about living in Ohio, it’s that. It’s a culture that flies in the face of your values (in my case a set of stereotypical, young progressive values) and subverts your needs to that of a more powerful and ubiquitous group whose values and needs are the standard against which everything else is compared. Like trains? That makes you outside the mainstream. Want to marry your loving partner of two decades? Other places are waiting with open arms.

My ultimate favorite is this one. Let’s say you’re young and you want to live in a vibrant city, like many young people. Ok, in northeast Ohio, having a vibrant city is not a priority at all. Try this experiment for yourself. Complain to some average middle-aged person about sprawl and the lack of resources flowing toward the city center. Eight times out of ten this person will say: “Well it doesn’t matter because soon you’ll have kids (thus becoming a “real person” whose opinions are worth considering) and move to the suburbs.”

The easiest solution to this predicament, of course, is to move away. To Portland, or Williamsburg, or New Orleans, somewhere that’s thick with attractive people at the prime of their lives. Somewhere where they build a network of bike lanes to keep people like you safe, where people do experimental performance art, where there are more dogs than children.

The problem is, that just makes things more lopsided. Sometimes though, I get worn out and frustrated, alienated, and I long to be on the other side of the divide.

–A.S.

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