Vital to the region’s future, young people and the workforce are crucially intertwined. While community colleges and vocational schools in particular are building skills and career pathways for local students, we heard young people say they see limited employment and recreation opportunities to keep them here—perceptions that some of them also connected to the growing opioid crisis. This lack of opportunity is driving youth to leave the region as they become adults. With a shortage of skilled workers on many minds, supporting younger residents—in order to sustain the workforce, schools, services and overall population—emerged as an urgent priority.
Fewer Students, Higher Graduation Rates
Declining enrollment has long been a trend in rural schools around the U.S. Here in the region’s public school districts— currently totaling 42—the story is no different. Overall, public school enrollment decreased 12% between 2009 and 2015, compared to a 2% rise nationally. In fact, all but three districts had fewer students in 2015 than in 2009.
With limited financial resources, schools are also scrambling to meet the needs of a growing portion of students for whom English is not a first language—particularly in Dutchess County, where 3% of the towns’ student populations in 2014 – 2015 were English language learners.
A positive trend is increasing high school graduation rates. The majority (71%) of districts that report graduation rates saw increases between 2009 and 2015, with an average rate of 87% in 2015, above the national average of 82%.
Large Professional and Working Classes
A well-educated workforce can boost prosperity, and the region has a somewhat higher than average share of highly educated professionals (those with a post-graduate degree), at 14% compared to 11% nationally. It also has a larger working-class population. Thirty-one percent of residents hold a high school diploma only, compared to 27% nationally. To round out the picture, there is a somewhat lower than average share of adults with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or with less than a high school education. This mix of education levels has implications for current and future employers.
An Emerging Skills Mismatch
Skills to thrive in the local economy are another essential competitive element for residents and employers. Along with weaker job growth and a lack of higher paying jobs, there is evidence that a shortage of skilled workers has employers struggling to fill openings. The relatively low educational attainment among current residents and the number of high school students who are opting out of college and have limited career readiness may be contributing factors. Demographic shifts, including the aging of the workforce and out-migration of youth, are shrinking the pool of working age adults. Meanwhile, attracting skilled workers—through successful schools, affordable housing and livable communities—poses an ongoing challenge.
Climbing Deaths from Drug Overdoses
A national epidemic and public health crisis, opioid addiction is especially devastating in the Northeast. Drug overdose deaths have increased substantially since 2000 in each of the region’s four counties. Measured by deaths from drug and opioid overdose per 100,000 residents, available rates range from 8.1-12.0 deaths per 100,000 residents in Columbia and Dutchess counties to as high as 16.1-20.0 deaths per 100,000 residents in Berkshire County. Age-adjusted rates—which help make fairer comparisons between communities with varying combinations of age groups—for our three states are slightly higher than in BTCF’s four focus areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported rates of 11.1-13.5 in New York, 16.1-18.5 in Connecticut and 18.6-21.0 in Massachusetts in 2014. The overall U.S. rate was 14.7%.