Yesterday, the ADN profiled a young Juneau couple who is leaving Alaska after four years because "they see a downturn coming and they don't trust the Legislature to handle it." The couple, a university economist and a massage therapist, are "highly trained people with marketable skills" who "can go where they want, when they want," and are choosing to leave. The point of the op-ed, I think, was that legislative cuts impacting an educated professional class result in a brain drain, which in turn drags down the economy.
I have no idea if that's true or not (I'm not an economist) and I don't know the featured couple personally, but the comments on the op-ed were predictably harsh and hostile. Stuff like, "don't let the door hit you on the way out," and "can afford to move when things get tight, still complains. Just leave if you're gonna leave or stay and help us fix it."
I'm ashamed to admit I felt a small twinge of these same sentiments, so I asked myself why.
A hard part of living in this state is watching people come and go. It's difficult to invest in friendships and professional relationships when you know it's likely people will leave. When you're committed to living here--whether it's because you have to or because you want to--it feels like a personal indictment when someone moves. You feel a little abandoned and put-off, like: Oh, I see. Alaska is good enough for me and my kids, but it's not good enough for you? Screw you then! It makes you bristle, shut down, and feel angry and judgmental.
I confess I've felt all of these things at various points in my 11 years of living here, but ultimately I know that's my own issue, and I don't judge people for their choices. It's not a simple matter of loyalty; people have all kinds of reasons for leaving Alaska: family obligations or new opportunities Outside, the high cost of living in the state, its weather, its isolation, emotional baggage. All people must make careful, highly individualized evaluations of their lives and make the decisions that are right for them and their families, personally and financially, at any given moment in time.
I have a graduate-level education and (presumably) the ability to move if I wanted to, and my job is also subject to the whims of the Legislature. But I don't want to move, and I don't plan to.
One of the most-read posts on O.H.M. is this one about why I choose to stay here, and it feels more relevant than ever. It pretty much sums up the reasons why I think Alaska is a special and unique place, and why I don't want or plan to leave. Even with a bleak economic forecast, and even though I'm indisputably one of the deeply-maligned-by-ADN-commenters-professionals-with-supposed-options.
There are intangible benefits you get from living here that you can't monetize or otherwise put a price tag on: Access to the outdoors; a lack of materialism and acquisitiveness; a lifestyle where you don't have to sit in traffic and commute for hours; quirky, supportive communities of people who share your values. In short, things you can't easily find in the Lower-48, no matter how great the next job is.
All economies are volatile, perhaps ours more so than some others. To be sure, it's not always easy to live here, and the latest doom-and-gloom economic outlook paired with prospective legislative gridlock is simply one more reason why. Alaska doesn't work for lots of people, for lots of different reasons, and that's okay. Maybe it will stop working for me someday too. Who knows. All I know now is that every time I come home to Alaska, I feel like I'm in the right place for me and my family.
And that's why, each day and for as long as I can, I will continue to choose Alaska.