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Demographic Wars
College Grads Flock to New Cities

American college graduates ages 25–34 are increasingly moving to cities like Houston, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore—and away from more traditional but more expensive post-college destinations like New York City. That’s the conclusion of a piece in NYT’s The Upshot about a new report by City Observatory on young adult settlement patterns. Above is the graph showing the 11 cities where the rate of growth of the young adult population is higher than the national average. That cities like Houston and Austin are growing has long been noted by demographers like Joel Kotkin, who say young people are attracted to their low cost of living, cheaper housing, and brown (energy) jobs.

More surprising, perhaps, is the growth of places like Pittsburgh and Baltimore—although in the former case, some smart investment in tech industries has helped to attract young talent, helping the city avoid Detroit’s fate. Perhaps young college graduates will venture into even less popular destinations? That’s the hope expressed in a piece in the National Journal, which makes a case for college graduates to move to Des Moines, Iowa:

Cost of living is six percentage points below the national average, median salary is $51,200, job growth is 2.9 percent, there is one company with 500 or more employees for every 612 people, and millennials are pouring into Des Moines at a higher rate than they are nationally. Forbes even lists it as the best city for young professionals. […]

Technology leveled the playing field with start-ups. Geography doesn’t matter anymore. They read the same blogs, use the same machines, and are connected to the same Internet as everybody else in the industry. The only difference is that in Des Moines, they do it for much less, explains Andrew Kirpalani, a product manager for Bunchball, a gamification company with a satellite office in Gravitate.

The point raised in that second paragraph is crucial. As telecommuting becomes more acceptable, certain key industries will be able to give their workers a lot of flexibility in choosing where to live and work. It would be natural, in that case, to see college graduates prioritize a lower cost of living.

This is true especially since the affordable cities now offer more in the way of culture and entertainment than they used to. The National Journal piece, for example, profiles the Des Moines Social Club, an organization founded by a former NYC resident that fulfills many yipster preferences, from food to the arts to social life. Considering these cities’ lower cost of living, solid cultural offerings, and good jobs (whether native to the area or accessible by telecommuting), it’s no surprise the demographics are shifting in the way the Upshot records—and that this shift to newly popular cities could pick up even more.

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  • B-Sabre

    “Gamification”? WTH, over?

    • Bill_Woods

      I wondered too.
      Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics[1] in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.”

      Presumably pronounced with a long A.

  • stanbrown

    A few years back, Virginia Postrel was shocked that people who could live anywhere they wanted and still do their job via the internet were choosing to live on mountains in Montana. I wrote her then to predict that we will see many more of the kind of developments that were beginning to appear in the foothills of the Smoky Mtns — luxury homes on the lake in the mountains with a golf course, a marina, horse barns and polo grounds. And all for a small fraction of what it costs to have a small house in many of the expensive areas of the country. The great rescession has stopped these for the moment. But they are coming.

    As long as an airport is within a short drive, and the development is large enough to support a good school and a social life with enough similar people, look for middle age couples to look to escape the rat race while upgrading the quality of their houses and amenities for a fraction of the cost.

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