Where Do College-Educated Millennials Live–and What Should Michigan Do About It?

In Lou’s work with Michigan Future, he has argued for years—and argues again in our recent report—that Michigan needs to come to grips with the fact that a prosperous state economy isn’t driven anymore by lots of low-skilled manufacturing work, or even traditional business development.

It’s driven by talent.

The high-wage jobs and innovative companies that will define opportunities for prosperity now and in the future are the most dependent on one thing: the brainpower of high-skilled workers. Those companies, more and more, follow talent.

We recently looked for a quick answer to a question that we figured someone else had put together: where do college-educated millennials live? But we didn’t find anything that satisfied us. So we decided to pull some data and take a look.

We used the 2015 one-year American Community Survey data for every metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the country. MSAs look different around the country, but they are areas characterized by high population density, with an area of even higher density at the core. Communities within an MSA are highly economically connected. So, the Detroit MSA is actually a six-county area including and around Detroit, and includes the cities of Dearborn and Warren. The Grand Rapids MSA includes the four counties of Ottawa, Barry, Montcalm, and Kent.

We were interested not in where college-educated Millennials are a disproportionate part of the population, but in the simple question of where they are, by the numbers. If we want to know what they are looking for—what attracts them—this is the purest answer. There are 14,970,508 college-educated Millennials in the country, out of our total population of 316.5 million. Where do most of those 15 million economic drivers live?

The Top Ten Cities for College-Educated Millennials

A whopping 36 percent of them live in one of ten Metro areas. In other words, the ten MSAs who have the greatest number of college-educated Millennials have over one-third of the entire country’s population.

It would be easy to explain this simply as, “Bigger cities will have more of everything.” To some extent that’s true. Except that: (1) It doesn’t make the fact that college educated Millennials are choosing big cities somehow irrelevant. It’s the main thing these people are choosing: lots of people, high density, and a strongly urban lifestyle. And (2) Each of the top ten metros—and many of the others—has a higher share of educated Millennials than its share of the nation’s population. New York, which has 9.4 percent of the nation’s college-educated Millennials, has only 6.3 percent of the nation’s population. LA has 4.2 percent of the college educated Millennial population, but 5.0 percent of the total population. Cities #5 and #6, the Boston and San Francisco MSAs, are the highest over-performers in this measure: they have almost twice the share of Millennials as they hold share of the population.

  1. New York-Newark-Jersey City
  2. LA-Long Beach-Anaheim
  3. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin
  4. DC-Arlington-Alexandria
  5. Boston-Cambridge-Newton
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
  7. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington
  9. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land
  10. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell

We also added up the number of college-educated 25-34 year-olds in all of the remaining metros that have a total population over one million (in 2015, there were 53 metros above this threshold). The remaining MSAs in the top 53 list host 33 percent of the college-educated Millennials in the country. Then 25 percent of the nation’s college-educated Millennials live in the remaining Metros.

This means that only six percent of college-educated Millennials live outside of an MSA.

Michigan’s Metros

Detroit was the 14th largest MSA in the 2015 data, but 17th in terms of college educated Millennials. Meaning it’s still not getting nearly it’s share—let alone a higher proportion, like the top performing cities are—of educated young people. Grand Rapids does slightly better in terms of proportion (0.34% of the nation’s educated Millennials, and 0.32 percent of the nation’s population).

When you look at the data and see that only six percent of the brains that will drive the future economy (because businesses will go where they go) choose to live somewhere besides a metro—and that over a third of the nation’s college-educated Millennials are being attracted by ten of the largest metros—there’s just no way to ignore what this means for Michigan. For the state to have a healthy, growing economy, Grand Rapids and Detroit need to become denser and provide a more robust urban lifestyle. There isn’t another path to prosperity for our state.

Read about how we think Michigan should respond right here.

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