Millennials in Philadelphia: A Promising but Fragile Boom

Jan 21, 2014

The growth of Philadelphia’s young-adult population in recent years has been hailed as one of the more positive developments in the city’s recent history and a possible key to its future.

Since 2006, when the city’s population reached its lowest point in a century, no major city has experienced a larger increase in 20- to 34-year-olds than Philadelphia, as measured by the change in their percentage of each city’s overall population.

 Read the full report (PDF) 

This boom, however, appears to be as fragile as it is promising. Young adults—members of the nation’s vast millennial generation—are drawn to the city by its vibrancy, diversity, culture, and nightlife. But many of them voice a familiar set of concerns about life in the city, bemoaning the dirty streets, the crime, and the perennially troubled school system. And they are contending with a local job market that many consider to be lacking in the kinds of opportunities that lead to careers.

In a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, half of the 20- to 34-year-olds questioned said they definitely or probably would not be living in Philadelphia five to 10 years from now, compared with about 3 in 10 for the rest of the city’s adult population. The millennials cited job and career reasons, school and child-rearing concerns, and crime and public safety as the primary reasons for their potential departures.

Figure1-millenials

Using demographic data, focus groups, and polling results, Pew took a close look at Philadelphia’s young adults, a group that has brought the city a renewed sense of vitality and hope and has enlivened its streets, day and night.

Among the findings:

  • The city’s population of 20- to 34-year-olds increased by about 100,000 from 2006 through 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. When the city’s overall population is divided into age groups of five years each, the 25- to 29-year-olds and 20- to 24-year-olds are by far the largest, followed by the 30- to 34-year-olds.
  • Although the growth in Philadelphia’s millennial population has been exceptional over the past several years, the current share of the city’s population represented by young adults—26 percent—is near the median for the nation’s 30 most populous cities.
  • The racial and ethnic makeup of Philadelphia’s young adults is slightly different from that of the rest of the population. Overall, non-Hispanic blacks are the largest bloc, accounting for 42 percent of the city’s population. Among millennials, non-Hispanic whites are the largest group, representing 40 percent of the total.
  • The highest concentrations of millennials are found primarily in Center City and the surrounding areas, including University City and the two ZIP codes that constitute the northern half of South Philadelphia. In addition, Manayunk, East Falls, Kensington/Fishtown, and Roxborough have large percentages of millennials.
  • Young adults accounted for nearly two-thirds of the individuals who reported having moved into the city recently, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Areas with high percentages of new arrivals include Center City, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk, and University City.
  • Philadelphia’s millennials are nearly twice as likely as older Philadelphians to have bachelor’s degrees, a wider generational gap on education than has been the case in the past. The city’s performance in young-adult educational attainment is greatly improved: 37.4 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 have college degrees. A few years ago, Philadelphia trailed other major cities in this category, but now it is near the median for the 30 largest cities. The same is true for the share of young adults with graduate and professional degrees. Still, more than 3 in 5 millennials in the city do not have bachelor’s degrees.

Pew’s poll found that young adults share their elders’ views of Philadelphia in many respects, but in several important areas, they are slightly less positive about the city and less optimistic about its future. For instance, 54 percent said they consider the city an excellent or good place to live, compared with 62 percent for all other age groups.

Figure9-millenials

Of potentially greater import is that only 36 percent of millennials said they would recommend the city as a place to raise children, while 56 percent would not. With many young adults starting to raise families or thinking about doing so, this view is a not a positive sign.

These results suggest that the millennials’ affection for Philadelphia is conditional. And for the city, the stakes in
meeting those conditions are very high.

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