FEELING OLD? You’re in good company. Keep the number eight in mind. As a county, our median age is more than eight years older than the statewide figure. Doesn’t sound like much until you remember when you were eight and you encountered someone eight years older… 16, a teenager–an awesome giant from another world.
Now consider another number. We’re getting smaller. Not as in shrinking, although that happens too. The county’s population is dribbling away. When the last census was taken in 2010 there were just over 63,000 people who called Columbia County home. The Census Bureau estimates we lost more than 2,000 people over the following six years.
This shouldn’t come as news to anyone who lives here. But despite these trends there are many hopeful signs. Sales tax revenues were up in the first half of the year; the City of Hudson has received a $10-million state grant for waterfront development; there’s no shortage of creative plans in the works and soon you’ll be able to recharge your electric vehicle at your nearby recharging station unless your vehicle decides to drive itself to a different recharging station it likes better.
While Columbia County is and will remain a desirable place to live, those of us who’d like to stay here know we face demographic challenges ahead. That’s a polite way of saying that we need more people and we have to come up with good reasons for them to look us over and then to stick around.
Why do we need people? Just look at what the census identifies as the largest industry category in Columbia County in terms of employment, “Health Care & Social Assistance.” The older we are the more healthcare and all sorts of other help we need. And as a county we’re old. Where are the people with all levels of skills going to come from who will help us age with dignity?
We could hope they’ll just show up here because this is where the jobs are. But the latest figures show that Columbia County still has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. The people who are looking for work have already found it. The odd thing is that a report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released this week shows that the region’s labor force in isn’t growing much at all.
There is one exception. The segment of the labor force that’s adding workers at the fastest clip is workers aged 65 and older. So it’ll be the elderly caring for the super-elderly. Who else is going to do it?
As much as this is a problem facing our county it is also a national dilemma–a global issue, too, with the same forces at work in Europe and Asia. Locally, we need to support the small-scale efforts already underway here to protect county resources and expand essential services. But those projects have little meaning unless we also add our voices on behalf of rational immigration policies, starting with the humane and sensible program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. It should be federal law.
Fulfilling a campaign promise President Trump this week abandoned an executive action by President Obama that allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors to continue to live and work here. Mr. Obama called these young people “Dreamers.” Mr. DiNapoli said this week that there are 40,000 dreamers in this state. If you do the math based simply on population, there might be over 100 of them here in the county.
No matter how many Dreamers we have among us, they alone wouldn’t solve the problems we face from our loss of population. But our treatment of them–foreign children with no say in how they got here who are every bit as American as any of us who read this–sends a message around the world that we don’t want you, you immigrants, you others.
Some Americans will cheer this. They’ll say it’s the right message to send. Those views make sense if you don’t plan on living very long or don’t understand what the census data reveal. But the rest of us have good reason to contact the president, Congressman John Faso, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and House Speaker Paul Ryan and demand that DACA becomes a law that includes an orderly, fair and efficient immigration system that attracts more new arrivals, not fewer. We need more immigrants. Here in Columbia County our lives depend on it.