Millennials Aren’t Flocking to Cities Anymore—Can Philly Buck the Trend?

Post recession, young people are staying put.

Half a million fewer Millennials picked up and left to start over in new locations following the Great Recession, according to a new study released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Even though young adults remained by far the most transient age group out of all Americans both before and after the downturn — accounting for 43 percent of all movers over the six-year span studied — their movement slowed down, especially among 18- to 24-year olds.

People chase jobs. Less mobility in a post-recession world could be a positive indicator of a healthier economy for young people (more job stability) or it could be a casualty of the recession (moving is not an option for some anymore).

Philadelphia, though, is something of an Millennial migration outlier, which is good news. The number of young people moving into the city from other counties (aged 18-34) grew by seven percent between 2010 and 2012, compared to the three years prior. And the amount of Millennials moving in from other states grew by eight percent over that span.

That’s an encouraging sign, but it’s not the complete picture. Millennials move out of the city as well. And, indeed, a Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative report from last year warned that Philadelphia’s Millennial surge — 100,000 more young adults between 2006 and 2012 — could be slowing down:

This boom, however, appears to be as fragile as it is promising. Young adults—members of the nation’s vast millennial generation—are drawn to the city by its vibrancy, diversity, culture, and nightlife. But many of them voice a familiar set of concerns about life in the city, bemoaning the dirty streets, the crime, and the perennially troubled school system. And they are contending with a local job market that many consider to be lacking in the kinds of opportunities that lead to careers.

This notion—that Millennials are tiring of city life—is having something of a moment. A recent story at FiveThirtyEight was headlined “Think Millennials Prefer The City? Think Again.” The analysis didn’t take into account young adults moving into urban areas from other states, so it doesn’t necessarily debunk the old conventional wisdom that Millennials are city lovers. But given the data is does seem clear that, at minimum, Millennials aren’t flocking to cities in quite the same numbers they were before.

Which makes it that much more important that Philadelphia hang on to graduates of local universities. One way to help is to better acquaint college kids with the city while they’re here. A survey of young Philadelphians by Campus Philly estimated that college students who obtained a high degree of familiarity with the city were almost 20 percent more likely to stay after graduation (which seems like a pretty good argument for giving college kids “free” SEPTA access).