Recession Leads More Young People to Stay in Region

For much of the last decade, cities across our region have watched their recent college graduates flee to cities like Phoenix, but new census data show the recession has significantly changed where young people are moving.


People—especially those in their twenties—go where the jobs are. That’s why Michigan is so concerned about being the only state in the census to lose population and cities like Cleveland and Detroit have been fretting about “brain drain” to other areas: places like Phoenix, Riverside, CA, and several Florida metropolitan areas, according to University of Michigan and Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. He’s been looking at the new census data and says the great recession of the past few years has changed everything. Those Sunbelt cities no longer have cheap mortgages and plentiful jobs.

“We basically have seen these bubble places pop,” Frey said.

With few opportunities elsewhere, many young people have decided to stay in the Midwest. In Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo and Milwaukee, the number of young people leaving fell dramatically during the recession. Pittsburgh stopped its losses altogether and actually had a slight net gain of young people moving in. While many may be living with their parents and waiting out the recession, Frey says this is an opportunity for these cities that have been trying for years to become more attractive to just these young workers.

“These areas do have a chance to show their stuff to these young people and to these college graduates. And, maybe in some cases they’ll stay,” he said.

Since World War II, migration around the country has never been lower than it is now. Frey says this period is so unusual that it’s hard to make projections about the future. He just hopes many of these young workers won’t have to live with their parents too much longer.

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