By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Young adults are continuing to leave Del Norte County in search of better jobs or higher education, only to return later in life, according to statistics recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

There are fewer adults in Del Norte County between the ages of 20 and 24 than any other age groups up to 55 years old, according to the 2000 census. The young-20s age group represents a mere 5.5 percent of the population. This low number is consistent with previous surveys for that age range.

There appears to be no official explanation for why Del Norte residents leave in their early 20s, because no one source can explain it, according to employers and educators.

But longtime residents seems to think the young adults are simply leaving their hometown for jobs.

Carol Mathews, interim president of Del Norte's College of the Redwoods, said she believes most Del Norte residents seeking an extended education leave town after their early 20s.

andquot;My guess is most of those students are older than the 20 to 24 age group,andquot; she said. andquot;Anecdotally, they are older older than 24. So if you are looking for an explanation, I don't think we account for many of them at all.andquot;

At the U.S. Army recruiting office in Crescent City, Chris Leavelle said the 20-24 age group is oddly absent when it comes to enlistments.

andquot;We don't get too many right in that middle range,andquot; Leavelle said. andquot;I'd say 90 percent of recruitments are between 17 and 21, and then they pick up again between 24 and 26 ... I couldn't tell you why.andquot;

According to those who employ young adults, there is no shortage of applicants for jobs.

andquot;I get more applications than I know what to do with,andquot; said Crescent City McDonald's Restaurant co-manager Angela Reed. andquot;The difficult part for us is coming up with positions for all the applicants.andquot;

Other area restaurants said they, too, have plenty of applicants for each position. The personnel manager for Wal-Mart on Washington Boulevard said, from what she has witnessed, there are plenty of young adults seeking employment.

Although there is no official position on the phenomenon, the common wisdom among longtime county residents is young adults simply leave Del Norte to seek out greater employment opportunities.

andquot;There's nothing here for the young people. Historically, there's no work that offers advancement,andquot; said county native and former police chief, Nick Pottorff. andquot;In the old days, mills and fishing were the main employers, but it was hard work and there was no advancement.

andquot;Later in life, they seem to come back, because their roots are here. People tell them to come home, and they do,andquot; Pottorff said.

The census statistics support Pottorff's theory, because the population numbers rise significantly in Del Norte from ages 25 through 44.

Other rural counties in Northern California also show low percentages of the same age group: Mendocino, 5.4 percent; Siskiyou, 4.1; and Shasta, 5.3. Humboldt and Sonoma counties, home to four-year colleges, have 8.9 and 6.1 percent of the same age group, respectively. The statewide average is 7 percent.