Where are Millennials and Young Adults Moving?

woman looking at map

In March 2015 the U.S. Census Bureau released a report about Young Adult Migration in the United States. Not surprisingly, young adults are far more peripatetic than their parents, moving more frequently from one place to another in search of jobs, relationships, and home ownership. 

Young adults aged 18 to 24 had the highest migration rate compared to 25- to 29-year-olds and 30- to 34-year-olds in both the 2007–2009 recession period and the 2010–2012 postrecession period. - U.S Census Bureau

The young adult population, while decidedly more urban than suburban, is looking towards smaller cities to make their homes. From 2000-2012, some of the biggest influx of young adults occurred in midsize cities like San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Nashville, Portland, OR and Salt Lake City. The city that has grown the most in young adult population is Houston, while Atlanta, once the hottest place to live for young adults, is losing that demographic as other cities with less traffic and smaller populations become more enticing.

Despite the trend towards midsize cities by young adults and Millennials, it's still the big cities that offer the best and most opportunities for jobs for young people. New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles are the top 5 cities for job hunters according to Money magazine. The coasts remain the most popular and desired places for young adults to put down roots and begin their lives after college.


Bankrate.com has rated 100 cities on their appeal based on 6 criteria: social opportunities, job prospects, pay potential, career advancement and quality of life. What doesn't seem to be factored in to the Bankrate rankings is cost of living, which is astronomically higher in New York City than, for example, Milwaukee, number 24 on the list.

The average cost for a one bedroom apartment in New York City is $3152 per month, and in Milwaukee it's $884 per month. Of course New York and Los Angeles are exciting, culturally diverse cities within driving distance to the ocean or mountains, but for practical reasons a city like Milwaukee can offer financial peace of mind.

Depending on what your career goals are and experience and degree are in, some cities will make much more sense than others. Hi-tech jobs are heavily concentrated in Silicon Valley outside of San Jose and Louisville, Kentucky, while Houston, Seattle and the previously mentioned Milwaukee are the best cities for manufacturing jobs. For entertainment careers there's nothing close to Los Angeles and New York City, which is also the center of the publishing industry. 

Detroit, despite it's challenging economy and the exodus of many companies, has the highest retention rate, according to Citylab.com:

Perhaps surprisingly, the hard-hit Detroit metro area tops the list with a 77.7 percent retention rate. This high retention level is likely due to the fact that the University of Michigan is located nearby, while smaller colleges and universities like Wayne State and the University of Detroit Mercy, as well as community colleges, serve a more locally based group of students.

While many young adults move far from home after graduating from college, over 30% return to live with their parents for financial and emotional support. Especially for those who live in bigger urban areas where the cost of living can be prohibitive to striking out on one's own, this trend does not appear to be changing any time soon.

The share of 18-to-34-year-olds living with their parents was 31.5% as of March 2015, up from 31.4% last year, according to a report from the Commerce Department on Monday. In 2005, just 27% of young adults lived with their parents, a number that has climbed pretty steadily since then. - The Wall Street Journal

Another factor for young adults to stay close to mom and dad is for child care when they have children - with the average cost of center-based childcare at $11,000 annually (and in-home care much more expensive), having Grandma and Grandpa nearby to care for grandchildren can be a huge financial help.