Survey assesses young adults' take on Massachusetts

Dan McDonald

The question, for in-state think tank MassINC, was a simple one: What do young people think of Massachusetts?

Earlier this year more than 800 people between the ages of 25 and 39 responded to shades of that question.

Their collective replies were batted around the Sheraton Framingham hotel Friday as the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce and the Marlborough Regional Chamber hosted a Verizon-sponsored forum dubbed "Great Expectations: A Survey of Young Adults in Massachusetts."

Some young people, according to MassINC's survey, do not foresee staying in in the state; more than one-fifth of those polled expected to leave the state within the next five years.

"We all realize Mass. is losing young adults and that has to be a concern," John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC.

The motivation behind such an exodus?

Of those who were considering migrating elsewhere, 17 percent said government could reduce taxes to sway them to stay, 14 percent said the public sector should make housing more affordable, 10 percent said improved job opportunities, 8 percent said improved government, 7 percent said reduced cost of living.

Faith in the government is also lackluster among the 25-to-39 crowd: 62 percent polled say they are not too confident or not confident at all in state and local government's effectiveness.

Of those who have little confidence in the government, the dissatisfaction is directly correlated with their take on taxes.

For those who have confidence in government, 52 percent say tax levels are either about right or too low. For those with lesser confidence in the public sector, only 21 percent held that belief.

The study showed the majority of young adults think they pay more in taxes than what they get back in services.

Timothy Flanagan, Framingham State College president, articulated that civic disconnect.

Dining with a group of about 20 Framingham State students recently, Flanagan said to a person they, "thought you would have to be out of your mind to run for public office."

Ironically, what may be the state's biggest draw - higher education - may also force some young people to look elsewhere.

Competition for good-paying jobs is stiff and the crop of talent deep in a state that boasts one of the highest college-educated populations in the country and world-renowned universities.

Adam Ploete, a 33-year-old manager of sustainable development programs for 495/MetroWest Partnership, said he came to Massachusetts with a graduate degree about three years ago.

"I had a brutal time finding a job here," he said. "You are surrounded by the smartest people in the country."

"Imports," or people who did not grow up in the state, said Schneider, "are the heart of the knowledge sector."

And while jobs may be the No. 1 state allure for young people, Schneider noted, "The notion that we have to compete for talent is something we need to wrap our brains around."

Property costs can also be a deterrent.

Bethany Mercer, a nurse recruiter for MetroWest Medical Center, said the "sticker shock" of housing prices was prevalent when she was recruiting potential nurses from out of state or outside the country.

To attract young professionals, Mercer said her company offers college loan reimbursements for as long as the person is employed there.

It's the kind of investment in financial aid that Flanagan would like to see more of. "We need to keep the cost of higher education as low as possible," he said.

Tax incentives for companies that offer reimbursements like MetroWest Medical Center could motivate the private sector to offer similar loan-relief programs, said Flanagan.

"We need to plan long-term," he said. "We need to leverage and utilize public and private resources and not sit on our laurels."

In many instances, the type of financial strains facing young people were predicated on a college degree. Those without a degree are more likely to have financial pressure, take out more debt than they can handle and max out their credit cards.

Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or

The MetroWest Daily News