11.2.11 | ”There’s no place like home”– while Dorothy immortalized those words in the Wizard of Oz, they’re taking on new meaning in this recession. We’re staying put. Even young adults, the most highly mobile age group, is feeling stuck. As a recent CNBC article reports:
Among young adults 25 to 29… moves fell to 24.1 percent from 25.9 percent in the previous year. Longer-distance moves, typically for those seeking new careers in other regions of the country, remained largely flat at 3.4 percent. The biggest drop-off occurred in local moves, down to 15.4 percent from 17.7 percent in 2010, a sign that young adults in the prolonged slump weren’t even willing to venture outside their counties, continuing instead to live with relatives or on college campuses.
Demographer William Frey at the Brookings Institution adds some insights to the mobility numbers, finding that those who do move are heading in new directions:
To the extent they are moving at all, young adults are headed to metro areas which are known to have a certain vibe—college towns, high-tech centers, and so-called “cool cities.”
Comparing trends from the economic heyday of 2005-2007 with the doldrums of 2008-2010, Frey finds that young adults (age 25-34) are following the jobs and the hipsters. In the boom years, the hot spots drawing young adults were “bubble economy” cities: Riverside, Phoenix, and Atlanta, Frey finds. Today, those cities have dropped far down on the list, each barely gaining any young adults in 2008-2010. They were replaced, in order of net gains, by Denver, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Austin, Washington DC, and Portland. The first three and DC have rebounded from the recession fairly well, and Austin and Portland are, well, just cool. Minneapolis is close behind. As recent Minneapolitan Lacy Dunham, 29, told the Star-Tribune,
“It just came down to Minneapolis having a really good reputation for all the things that were important to us,” she said: bike-friendly, gay-friendly and outdoorsy. She also likes the city’s laid-back attitude.
Lacy’s list might as well have come straight off the pages of Richard Florida’s book, “The Rise of the Creative Class” (in a creative twist, he’s currently crowd-sourcing the new cover for the spring reissue). Florida was the first to identify the importance of traits like bike- and gay-friendly as draws for the creative class, whose smarts, creativity, and money would, he argued, be major drivers of development. Cities have been clamoring ever since to achieve that je ne sais quoi that attracts the right mix of creative sorts.
A little farther down on Frey’s list of migration hubs in addition to cities like Seattle and Austin, both meccas for youth, is… Pittsburgh—-perhaps a bit of a surprise for those who colloquially swap out the P in Pittsburgh for an SH. Yet Pittsburgh has been doing all the right things to bounce back from the slow burn of a dying steel industry, and it has capitalized on its strong universities and medical facilities to build a growing creative class. Universities, Frey notes, are often key draws for the current younger generation as well. It doesn’t hurt that a two-bedroom apartment in Pittsburgh was going for about $700-800 a month in 2009.
In contrast, the biggest net losers of young adults in 2008-2010 include Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and San Diego.
There’s a perennial paradox of youth migration. To thrive, hometowns need the best and brightest to stay put. But yet, in many ways, we also encourage them to leave. Network associate members Maria Kefalas and Patrick Carr, in their book “Hollowing Out the Middle,” discovered this paradox in the small Iowa town they studied. In numerous ways, the town, which suffered from chronic brain drain, rallied behind the “best and the brightest,” boosting their ambitions and dreams—essentially encouraging them to seek those dreams elsewhere. Demographer Jim Russell on his blog Burgh Diaspora gets to the heart of it, asking: “Since education makes a person more likely to leave your region, how do you justify your investment in human capital?”
The push and pull of migration will continue. Wanderlust is an American birthright. But if cities know what’s good for them, they will spruce themselves up for young adults because, as Frey notes, ”Right now, the ‘cool’ cities are serving as way stations for the small number of adventurous young people who are willing to move in a down economy. But when the broader economy picks up, a much larger group of people will move to wherever the jobs spring up.”