When young college graduates decide where to move, they are not just looking at the usual suspects, like New York, Washington and San Francisco. Other cities are increasing their share of these valuable residents at an even higher rate and have reached a high overall percentage, led by Denver, San Diego, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., according to a report published Monday by City Observatory, a new think tank.
And as young people continue to spurn the suburbs for urban living, more of them are moving to the very heart of cities — even in economically troubled places like Buffalo and Cleveland. The number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.
Some cities are attracting young talent while their overall population falls, like Pittsburgh and New Orleans. And in a reversal, others that used to be magnets, like Atlanta and Charlotte, are struggling to attract them at the same rate.
Even as Americans over all have become less likely to move, young, college-educated people continue to move at a high clip — about a million cross state lines each year, and these so-called young and the restless don’t tend to settle down until their mid-30s. Where they end up provides a map of the cities that have a chance to be the economic powerhouses of the future.
Where the Population of College Graduates Is Growing
As metropolitan areas vie for these residents, some are attracting them at a higher rate than the national average. The rate over the last dozen years does not necessarily reflect the current percentage. For example, Denver’s percentage in this age group is 7.5, higher than Houston’s and more than the national average of 5.2 percent, but lower than that of Washington, the Bay Area and Boston.
“There is a very strong track record of places that attract talent becoming places of long-term success,” said Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard and author of “Triumph of the City.” “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.”
The economic effects reach beyond the work the young people do, according to Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The New Geography of Jobs.” For every college graduate who takes a job in an innovation industry, he found, five additional jobs are eventually created in that city, such as for waiters, carpenters, doctors, architects and teachers.
“It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating their operations in that area and the more young people are going to move there,” he said.
About 25 percent more young college graduates live in major metropolitan areas today than in 2000, which is double the percentage increase in cities’ total population. All the 51 biggest metros except Detroit have gained young talent, either from net migration to the cities or from residents graduating from college, according to the report. It is based on data from the federal American Community Survey and written by Joe Cortright, an economist who runs City Observatory and Impresa, a consulting firm on regional economies.
Denver has become one of the most powerful magnets. Its population of the young and educated is up 47 percent since 2000, nearly double the percentage increase in the New York metro area. And 7.5 percent of Denver’s population is in this group, more than the national average of 5.2 percent and more than anywhere but Washington, the Bay Area and Boston.
Denver has many of the tangible things young people want, economists say, including mountains, sunshine and jobs in booming industries like tech. Perhaps more important, it also has the ones that give cities the perception of cultural cool, like microbreweries and bike-sharing and an acceptance of marijuana and same-sex marriage.
“With lots of cultural things to do and getting away to the mountains, you can have the work-play balance more than any place I’ve ever lived,” said Colleen Douglass, 27, a video producer at Craftsy, a start-up with online classes for crafts. “There’s this really thriving start-up scene here, and the sense we can be in a place we love and work at a cool new company but not live in Silicon Valley.”
Other cities that have had significant increases in a young and educated population and that now have more than their share include San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore.
At the other end of the spectrum are the cities where less than 4 percent of the population are young college graduates. Among those, Detroit lost about 10 percent of this group, while Providence gained just 6 percent and Memphis 10 percent.
Atlanta, one of the biggest net gainers of young graduates in the 1990s, has taken a sharp turn. Its young, educated population has increased just 2.8 percent since 2000, significantly less than its overall population. It is suffering the consequences of overenthusiasm for new houses and new jobs before the crash, economists say.
The population of young, educated people in Dallas, Charlotte and Raleigh is also growing more slowly than their populations as a whole.
The effects of the migration of the young and the restless are most vividly seen in urban cores. In 1980, young adults were 10 percent more likely than other people to live in these areas, according to the report from City Observatory, which is sponsored by the Knight Foundation. In 2010, they were 51 percent more likely, and those with college degrees were 126 percent more likely. The trend extends to all the largest metropolitan areas except Detroit and Birmingham, Ala.
Of the metropolitan areas with the most populous city centers, Washington and Philadelphia showed the largest increases of young adults living there, at 75 and 78 percent. Other cities that have made big gains in that category are Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Miami and St. Louis. Washington also had the largest share of young college graduates over all, at 8.1 percent.
“They want something exciting, culturally fun, involving a lot of diversity — and their fathers’ suburban lifestyle doesn’t seem to be all that thrilling to many of them,” Mr. Glaeser said.
How many eventually desert the city centers as they age remains to be seen, but demographers predict that many will stay. They say that could not only bolster city economies, but also lead to decreases in crime and improvements in public schools. If the trends continue, places like Pittsburgh and Buffalo could develop a new reputation — as role models for resurgence.