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Young Adults Choosing “Cool” Cities

In recession, they’re looking for a hipper vibe
  • March 18 2012

When times are good, young Americans go where the jobs are. When times are tougher, they head to places they think are cool.

The Brookings Institution looked at what metropolitan areas were attracting twenty- and thirty-somethings. Its analysis of the American Community Survey from 2008-2010 found that young adults, to the extent that they are moving at all, are headed to metro areas which are known to have a certain vibe—college towns, high-tech centers, and so-called “cool cities.”

This is in contrast to where young Americans settled during the “bubble economy” of 2005-2007. The trend prior to the 2008 recessions was that young people were moving to cities that were creating jobs and that had a lower cost of living.

Brookings noted a number of examples. Riverside, CA was the top gainer for adults aged 25-34 from 2005 to 2007, gaining 23,000 residents. In the subsequent recession years, it moved from first to eighth, gaining less than a quarter of the young adults it drew in the bubble years. Phoenix, which had been second, dropped to 17th, and Atlanta when from third to 23rd, each barely gaining any young adults at all.

With the mortgage meltdown and the rise in unemployment, young peoples’ destinations shifted. According to Brookings, the top cities young people headed to from 2008 to 2010 were 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.

Two cities on the list gained markedly in rank among young movers: Denver, which moved from twelfth to first, and Washington D.C., which improved from 44th to sixth.

At the other end of the spectrum were metro areas that were bleeding young people at the middle of the decade, as the promise of jobs and affordable housing lured them east from coastal California and south from the Northeast megalopolis. Now, these areas, including metro New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston have shown sharp declines in their young adult losses. Some potential migrants are holding tight, waiting for the next boom to come, but others may just choose to remain in these metros that have long held appeal to young people, Brookings contended.


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