Changing Youth Migration Patterns: So Long New York, Hello… Portland?

A new blog post from William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, takes a look at the migration patterns of American youth, and the cities that attract the “cool” crowd. In the last few years, the rough economy has put the brakes on mobility, which has declined to its lowest levels since World War II. Young adults in particular have stopped moving around. Still, like always, there are those 20 and 30 somethings who remain mobile. But, in recent years their list of destinations has begun to change. Frey writes:

While young people are moving less than before, it is interesting to see where those who did move went. Heading the list are Denver, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Austin, Washington D.C., and Portland. The top three areas and our nation’s capital, arguably, fared relatively well economically during the recession. But all seven are places where young people can feel connected and have attachments to colleges or universities among highly educated residents.

As illustrated in the chart below (courtesy of Brookings) the “Top Gainers” of young people age 25 – 34, from 2008 – 2010 are: Denver, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Austin, DC, and Portland.  The “Top Losers” are Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, and Virginia Beach.

But what are the qualities that make a city attractive to the young people in this survey? The big (obvious) answer is jobs. But beyond that, perhaps affordable housing, a low cost of living, a transportation and bicycle infrastructure, an arts culture, and of course, the prospect of being around other young people. Frey writes:

 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.”  

Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on the “Next Youth Magnet Cities,” and asked six experts (including William Frey) to pick the 10 cities they thought would lead the way in attracting young people. They included big ones like New York, Chicago and Boston, with Seattle tying for first place with D.C. They also included Raleigh, Dallas, and San Jose. 

What are some other non-job related factors that make a “cool city?” 

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  1. Tim says:

    As a 27 year old who has lived in New York, Boston and Providence I have chosen to live in Salt Lake City for many of the above reasons. One that was not mentioned that is the number one factor for me and dozens of my friends is the outdoors. Looking at that list you can’t help but notice these are cities with access to outdoor activities, be it skiing in Denver and Seattle or surfing in San Jose, more and more of my friends are looking for areas with multiple outdoor options, though jobs are of course number one.

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    • James says:

      Surfing in San Jose? I don’t think so, at least not without a longish drive over the hills to Santa Cruz. But you can do some fairly decent (for a city, anyway) hiking & biking in the surrounding hills.

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  2. Jonathan says:

    How far away the city is. Transportation and moving costs will have a huge impact.

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  3. @fabiodito says:

    Very good your article. I think that young people seek jobs and quality of life because of this immigration is changing. I prefer the city of Santos, a few of you should know but it is the city where you live the best soccer team in the world.

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  4. Mike says:

    I wouldn’t start assuming that jobs are the primary factor. People 25-34 are increasingly staying in school. There’s a lot of downtime and expense associated with school, especially grad school. Better to somewhere relatively cheap (e.g., Denver) with a lot of things to do than to try and tool around in New York City when you’re actually making money.

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  5. Laura says:

    The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.

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  6. Ben says:

    No where is cooler than Hermosa/Manhattan Beach, CA for obvious reasons – the weather and attractive (although, quite moronic) people.

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  7. Andrew says:

    Portland is where young people go to retire.

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  8. Jen says:

    Good beer, music, a creative community, old pretty houses, and amazing coffee and food.

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