Does Where You’re Born Determine Your Future?

As you read this post, try to answer this question in your head: Do you believe where you’re born determines what educational opportunities you have,your career options, and  your average lifetime health and wellness measures?

The town that I grew up in and once again call home is one that often shows up on national lists of rankings of things that you don’t want to be known for. We don’t enjoy admitting to these numbers, but since we face the day to day circumstances that those numbers are drawn from, we must face the reality of their truth.

My family has called this town home for nearly 100 years, from the time my great-grandfather and his brother bought a ranch on the outskirts of town. My grandparents moved out to the ranch in 1955, and my mother grew up there. It was an easy decision for her to return home after completing her college education, a decision I likewise made, claiming the city as my own thirty years later. I now live less than 5 miles from where my mom grew up on the ranch, and it’s official: This town is in my blood.  I consider myself lucky enough to be born into a family made sure I got a great education, and lucky  that I was able to complete a university education at a school in my choosing in a major of my choosing.

There aren’t very many people in this town who have that opportunity. For the few of us who do get this privileged upbringing, there aren’t many opportunities for us when we come back after our college graduations. Most people don’t come back – or, they do, and then they leave a few months later when they realize they’re not going to be able to find a stable job here that will let them pay off their student loans and make ends meet. This, unfortunately, perpetuates a system where we have what is known as “brain drain”. We watch as new businesses try, struggle, and fail. We watch our health indicators for items like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension increase. Our residents try to give their children hope for something better, all the while not knowing quite what to do to make that promise a reality.

Geography of Jobs

This week I’ve been reading a book recommended online by someone in our community called The New Geography of Jobs by Enrco Morietti, and its message is simmering in my mind. Our city made it in the book as one of the places struggling to survive in a new economy where innovation-centered jobs drive the economy. Reading this book makes me want to be able to set up a plan to give more educated people opportunities and reasons to be here. Reasons for young educated people to come home, and reasons for even younger people to have hope for what will come once they finish high school.

Sure, we could sit in a room and discuss for hours what people think should be done to improve our community. We can complete service projects and give input at city council meetings. We can invest in relationships with each other and create internship opportunities to build up the capacities of our future workers. We can be intentional about educating our young people to know their options for life after high school. We can do all these things, and still find our situation very much the same. 

I’m convinced that each of these items can help but I’m convinced that  more than that we need to scrutinize the way our health, education and training, political, economic and government systems interact with each other to either support or challenge our community members. For me, it comes down to the question – what are we doing that can equip people with the skills they need to be able to make a living doing something they enjoy? And, how can we structure our community to create an environment where these individuals can find employment in workplaces whose doors won’t close in 3 months to a year? 

Bronfenbrenner Systems ModelI don’t have the answers to these questions, but I want to have conversations with smart, caring people who have the ability to process these questions. These people exist and they’re working to do what they can to address complex and difficult questions. Even knowing this, though, I feel like we’re missing the connections between these systems, as illustrated by Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model (pictured left). I want to be able to work within this model at the Exosystem level to create opportunities for people to pursue their goals and succeed in achieving them, as I believe that is where we can most easily impact the community at large.

I’m itching to discuss, to act, to put something together to bring these ideas together, but I wonder if these thoughts matter to the people who have the ability to do something with them. I have no idea how to even begin  in pursuit of my own goal of making this little city one that makes headlines for its achievements, and not for the depressing statistics we’ve thus far borne upon our shoulders. And so I am stuck. Stuck with a desire to make my hometown healthier, wealthier, and happier, yet confused about what I can do to work towards making those things happen.

So, please tell me, given all of that – are there any ideas about where can I go from here?  And do you have an answer to the original question – Do you believe where you’re born determines what educational opportunities you have,your career options, and  your average lifetime health and wellness measures?