ODU professor says younger people are leaving Hampton Roads for better-paying jobs

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Though more people are working in Virginia, the Commonwealth is being outperformed by neighboring states as younger people are leaving the Hampton Roads region, according to a new report out of Old Dominion University.

“There is a lot of good news in the report and there some troubling news as well,” said ODU professor Bob McNab.

The good news is that McNab said more people are joining the labor force, and unemployment rates are below 3%.

“We have seen more people working in Virginia,” he said. “We have more people looking for work or at work than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a good thing.”

The not-so-good news, he said, is that, when we look at our neighbors, those states are outperforming us.

“When we compare our performance to North Carolina or Georgia, it shows we have some more room to go,” he said.

In Hampton Roads, McNab said the 20-to-34-year-old population is declining.

“We continue to lose people to other parts of the state and other states in the nation,” McNab said. “Hampton Roads has gotten slightly larger, but slightly grayer.” 

He says that a younger population is vital for a thriving area.

“Young adults typically spend more on consumption with regards to art, entertainment and other activities,” he said. “Keeping those young adults not only provides employers with people that will fill jobs at the entry-level, it also reinvigorates the region. It brings in culture. It brings in arts. It can be an economic symbol.”

He said the main reason boils down to money.

“It’s not because they are saying Hampton Roads is a boring place to live,” he said, “but they are looking for economic opportunities and they are voting with their feet. They are going to areas where they can find jobs that are higher paying.”

McNab said the housing price also has young people turning to other areas.

“The cost of housing here in Hampton Roads is relatively expensive,” he said. “We have to put more houses on the ground and more apartment buildings on the ground. That will address the supply problem we are having, which is why rent is so high.”

McNab also addresses some other solutions in the report, including investing in infrastructure and mental health.

“Addressing mental health gets people into the workforce, so there are more workers there. That can help employers fill more needs,” he said.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council told 10 On Your Side there are a lot of really great jobs. It is taking on different initiatives to retain young talent and show them the amazing jobs in the area.

“There are a lot of amazing opportunities in our region for really great jobs — the Workforce Council is focused on talent retention,” said Christina Brooks, senior director of community initiatives at the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. “There are a lot of different efforts underway to connect our young talent with these amazing jobs.”

He said that ultimately, there is some strong indication that Hampton Roads will have a good year.

“Given how strong the Hampton Roads economy has rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic and [how] the state and national economies have performed in the last two years,” McNab said, “we think 2024 has a prospect of being a good year in Hampton Roads.”