Worker Shortage, Enrollment Declines: What does this all mean for the economic future in the region?
by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent, Questar III
Last fall, Columbia-Greene Community College hosted a half-day forum sponsored by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Columbia Economic Development Corporation, and Greene County Economic Development Corporation entitled “Skilling the Gap.”
The event was conceived to build stronger alignment between workforce needs and career pathways available to young people through in- and out-of-school learning opportunities. It included a panel discussion and several keynote addresses, including one by Adam Bosch, president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a research and policy non-profit based in Newburgh.
During his remarks Bosch framed a set of challenges facing Columbia and Greene counties, including the lack of available workers, affordable housing, child care, and public transportation. Attendees had the opportunity to discuss these challenges as well as possible solutions during breakout conversations connecting leaders in business, higher education, K-12, community groups, and others.
In April 2023, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress released a research brief entitled The Great People Shortage and its Effect on the Hudson Valley that further explored the issues discussed in the fall. The report was inspired by a trend that has been felt over the past years, including a shortage of workers, fewer applicants for jobs, and longer waits for appointments with doctors, mechanics, and others.
The report confirms that the Hudson Valley region is experiencing the start of the Great People Shortage, a term coined for what is happening globally. Over a 25-year period, the nine-county Hudson Valley region lost more than 134,000 people due to migration, with 2019-20 being the only year with a net gain (629 people) due to the pandemic.
According to the report, the top reason for people moving out of the area was housing. This, in turn, has had a compounding effect with couples having fewer children while the population of those over 55 increases. Total annual births have declined steadily since 1997. In fact, every school in Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Putnam, and Ulster counties has seen its enrollments decline since 2007.
This is an important topic as population loss has a considerable impact on our schools, businesses, taxes, and even political representation. For example, the state of New York once sent 45 representatives to Congress, but this number has declined to 26 due to population declines relative to other parts of the country.
The loss of population is already being felt with labor shortages, business closures, and fewer consumers. Moreover, some employers may need to pay more to compete with a smaller pool of workers, something that impacts the cost of goods and services.
Migration has impacted human history and the quality of life for centuries, fueling economic growth, cultural exchange, and demographic shifts. While inward migration can alleviate labor shortages and spark economic growth, outward migration can have the opposite impact.
While the shortage of workers is not unique to the region, this is an opportune time for local leaders in business, K-12 education, higher education, and others to work together on what the report characterizes as a math problem – the lack of available workers – we must tackle these challenges together.
Interested in learning more? Visit www.pattern-for-progress.org for the report.