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The Next Youth-Magnet Cities - The Wall Stree Journal

October 2, 2009
Featured in - The Wall Stree Journal
SEPTEMBER 30, 2009

If you were a recent college graduate in a recovering economy launching a career, looking for a mate or both, where would you choose to live?

Predicting cities that will emerge as post-recession meccas for the young is easy to argue about, but impossible to forecast empirically. Whether you prefer hip, casual Austin, Texas, over the cosmopolitan allure of New York City is partly a matter of personal taste. Still, we asked six experts which 10 cities will emerge as the hottest, hippest destinations for highly mobile, educated workers in their 20s when the U.S. economy gets moving again. Our panelists—demographers, economists, geographers and authors on urban issues—picked their cities based on the criteria they deem most important, from economic diversity to lifestyle.

Big cities dominate our panelists' forecasts. Where trendy smaller cities might have captivated youth in the past, today's recession-scarred young people are more pragmatic, placing "greater emphasis on where high-quality, high-paying jobs are created," says Ross DeVol, director of regional economics for the nonprofit Milken Institute. Northeastern and West Coast cities are ascendant, eclipsing former Sunbelt favorites such as Atlanta.

Other cities once lauded as youth magnets fell off the radar. Naples, Fla., cited in an influential 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report on migration among young adults, was bypassed by panelists, a victim of the sagging Florida economy. The housing collapse sank another past favorite, former real-estate boom town Las Vegas. And Charlotte, N.C., a banking center, lost some of its luster to the financial crisis.

Quirky urban cultures haven't entirely lost their allure. Our panelists' No. 4 pick is a city with double-digit unemployment—Portland, Ore., a haven for artists, musicians and outdoor enthusiasts. The city has shown "staying power" among youth, says Rachel Franklin, a geographer at the University of Maryland and author of the Census Bureau report.

Where young adults settle is no small thing. People 18 to 29 are the most mobile age group, and their past migration patterns have defined the future of regions, from the long rural exodus of the 1900s to the Silicon Valley boom of the 1990s. Youth-magnet cities gain an enviable cultural allure and a labor-market edge.

The young are likely to be more restless than usual when the recovery comes. The recession has brought migration to a grinding halt: Fewer people moved across state lines in 2008 than at any time since 1950, when the population was smaller by half, says William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit Washington research organization.

Here's a look at our survey's top five cities:
First Place (Tie): Washington, D.C. Read the full story