Overall, population growth in the expensive big cities tends to be one-third to one half less than in Sunbelt boomtowns. Again, as in the suburban shift, there’s a strong correlation with aging. Among people who were in their early 20s in 2007 to 2011, some of the biggest population increases took place in metropolitan areas like Denver, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Portland.
Yet, these movements shifted as people entered their late 20s. Among those 25 to 29 in 2011, now in their early 30s, the fastest growth occurred in Orlando, Raleigh, Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte and Houston. San Francisco, which does so well among people in their early 20s, grew at half the rate of the Sunbelt standouts. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all experienced net declines in this cohort.
Turn to those 30 to 44 in 2011 and the pattern accelerates. In this cohort, growth shifts to lower-cost, largely Sunbelt metros such as Orlando, Austin, Raleigh, San Antonio, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Houston, Charlotte, Miami, Jacksonville and Nashville. In contrast, most of the metros that attracted younger people—like San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—grew half as quickly or less. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Jose saw a net decline in this population, indicating no significant net in-migration.
These trends also apply for the boomers. Here the fastest growth takes places almost exclusively in lower-cost Sunbelt metros such as Phoenix, Austin, Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa. In contrast, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose, Boston and San Francisco lose boomers, often by wide margins.
Given the increasing importance of boomers, Xers and aging millennials in the workforce, it may well be that employers seeking help need to calibrate their choices to where these generations seem to be headed. At a time of growing shortages of labor, an appreciation of these demographic and geographic trends seems sensible.
Where Talent Wants to Be
If current trends continue, another generation—often called GenZ—will follow their predecessors into urban cores in disproportionate numbers. Then they’ll face the same pressures that have impacted older generations. And unless there is some dramatic recasting of the housing industry, these younger workers may have even shorter windows to live in the large legacy cities before sparking urban core growth in metros such as Orlando, Phoenix, San Antonio and Nashville. For the next generation, New York, Boston and San Francisco may seem more like gated communities than places of opportunity.
The big opportunities for employers are likely to be found in the suburbs, particularly those developing amenities like theaters, ethnic restaurants and music venues. Aging millennials will want locations with town centers—whether restored or created—and will likely prefer such things as bike trails and parks over golf and endless mega-retail centers. The millennial suburb, as MIT’s Alan Berger has noted, will be different than the ones their grandparents desired, more walkable, environmentally sustainable and likely connected eventually by autonomous technologies. In other words, the most coveted American community of the coming decades could resemble a 19th century village.
“The millennial suburb, as MIT’s Alan Berger has noted, will be different than the ones their grandparents desired, more walkable, environmentally sustainable and likely connected eventually by autonomous technologies.”
It is also where more of America’s immigrants are headed, as is most evident in locales like Fort Bend, Texas, or Orange County, California; this is where minorities and immigrants, who make up 45 percent of all millennials, are increasingly settling. Along with aging millennials, Xers and boomers, these newcomers will dominate the workplace of the future—and that workplace will be in suburbia.