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?” 


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.


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


Portland is where young people go to retire.


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


Sounds like New Zealand.


I've lived in both Wellington NZ and Portland OR. They are the same. I hope "Portlandia" and reports of the 7 months of rain in Stumptown stem the crush. Its getting crowed inside the growth boundry!


Is it just me, or are these numbers completely useless for measuring the tendency for people to desire a city (or wish to flee)? At the very least, they should be normalized by the overall populations of the cities. The important trend in many ways ought to be how quickly (as a percentage of their current population) they are gaining or losing young people, no?

Chris E

I'm another 29 year old in Salt Lake City. I lost my job in Menlo Park, CA in 2009 and retreated to a lower cost state. I've found no shortage of jobs and life is just easier. I've considered leaving, but the snow won't let me. It's too beautiful here.

New York and San Fran are too competitive. I'd love to move to SF, but there are too many guys there with my same skill set. It's nice to feel a bit more needed. Also, parking is free!


Portland? Maine, or Oregon?

Eric M. Jones.

No surprise here.

For those interested in the subject, review high tech industry's Eastern starts and eventual Western locations. Some even tried to return, but eventually wound up back in California.

There is also the east-coast mindset. Remember that the East coast is what remained after those with adventure in their soul took wagons and trains and walked westward. No question that high culture and money resides in NYC. There is more old-world sophistication on one block of Manhattan than the entire city of LA (ignoring B.H. perhaps).

But don't forget the cost of home heating. I paid maybe $200/year in LA. I pay $500/month in New England. If you live within a mile of the Pacific Ocean, you won't need heat or AC...maybe just a sweater.

Many here mention outdoor living. True. When I lived in the city of LA. I spent much time outside. Now I live in the New England countryside and feel that I live in a box.

Go West young man.



People moving to Portland is super-old news. Seriously? You're just now writing about it? Also, we do not have jobs. We don't. Which is part of why the mass migration to Portland has slowed down a lot.


How is dallas a cool city?


Well. I personally don't really care where YOUNG people are moving. The movement of the populace as a whole is more interesting to contemplate (and inform).