Where Millennials and Seniors Have Moved Since the Recession

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Young adults are heading to knowledge-based metros, while Arizona and Florida remain retirement hubs, the Brookings Institution found in a new analysis.

U.S. millennials and seniors aren’t moving to the same regions and the two age groups are migrating to some different areas than they did before the Great Recession, according to a new Brookings Institution report.

Both are important for economic development. While millennials in their late 20s and 30s comprise the foundation of their regions’ workforces and consumer bases, affluent seniors age 50 and up are also typically desired newcomers. The movers among the two groups have ended up in different communities, according to the analysis of American Community Survey migration data from 2012-2017.

In general, the rates of migration have slowed since the 2007-2009 recession, though young adults—seeking jobs and going through family changes—remain far more likely to pick up and head someplace new than seniors, who often downsize locally in retirement. Still, the number of seniors who have moved in recent years to top destinations is closer to matching pre-recession statistics than millennial migration.

“Young adults really got hit hard during the Great Recession. If you saw the places gaining young adults prior to 2007, they tended to have booming housing markets,” William “Bill” Frey, demographer and Brookings senior fellow, told Route Fifty. “Back then, the sky was the limit for young people.”

The recession stalling housing and job markets explains millennials’ reduced migration, as well as their slowness marrying and having children, according to the report.

Meanwhile, many baby boomers delayed retirement and had trouble selling their homes. Recently, it’s become easier for seniors to sell their homes again and move on, Frey said.

As for where young adults are migrating, Houston; Denver; Dallas; Seattle; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Portland, Oregon all saw net migration gains exceeding 7,000 people.

Whereas, pre-recession, millennials gravitated toward metropolitan areas that had “some kind of boom going on,” whether with housing or jobs, now they’re attracted to knowledge-based places, Frey said. Denver, Seattle, Austin and Portland boast older millennial populations where more than two-fifths are college graduates.

Among the top 20 young metros for adult migration, 10 of them had older millennial populations with more than two-fifths college graduates—degree recipients are 55 percent of San Francisco’s millennial demographic.

“This is still the most educated generation of young adults that we’ve seen come along,” Frey said.

Only three of the top 20 metros for young adult migration fell outside the South and West “Sun Belt” region: Minneapolis-St. Paul; Columbus, Ohio; and Kansas City, Missouri. The low cost of living in those metros is the driver, Frey said.

While pre-recession hot spots for millennials were similar, Washington, D.C. has been replaced by Dallas in the top five, and migration gains for top metros are generally larger now, according to the report.

Pre-recession millennial migration favored suburban, homeowner-friendly metros like Riverside, California and Phoenix, as well as southeastern metros like Atlanta and Charlotte.

Out-migration from metros like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago was highest pre-recession, slowed during the recession and has begun to increase again. Millennials often live in those cities for education or an internship before moving on to areas with better costs of living, Frey said, but that doesn’t mean their populations are declining dramatically.

“They’re getting plenty of new gains from immigration that can counter some of this out-migration,” Frey said.

Metros that gained the most seniors also generally fell in the Sun Belt, but the top five didn’t overlap with the leading areas for young adults. Only 20 metros saw positive gains of seniors, and Seattle and San Francisco lost them even as they added millennials.

As in the past, Phoenix led all other metros gaining seniors with more than 18,000. That number was followed by Tampa, Florida; Riverside; Las Vegas; and Jacksonville, Florida. New York and Los Angeles lost the most seniors, largely to traditional migration states Florida and Arizona, respectively.

Metros that have fallen out of favor with seniors post-recession include Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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