The worst recession in a generation is disrupting migration patterns and overturning lives across the country. Yet, cities like Portland, along with Austin, Texas, Seattle and others, continue to be draws for the young, educated workers that communities and employers covet. What these cities share is a hard-to-quantify blend of climate, natural beauty, universities and -- more than anything else -- a reputation as a cool place to live. For now, an excess of young workers is adding to the ranks of the unemployed. But holding on to these people through the downturn will help cities turn around once the economy recovers.
Portland has attracted college-educated, single people between the ages of 25 and 39 at a higher rate than most other cities in the country. Between 1995 and 2000, the city added 268 people in that demographic group for every 1,000 of the same group living there in 1995, according to the Census Bureau. Only four other metropolitan areas had a higher ratio. The author of the Census report on these "youth magnet" cities, Rachel Franklin, now deputy director the Association of American Geographers, says the Portland area's critical mass of young professionals means it has a "sustained attractiveness" for other young people looking for a place to settle down.
I'm developing a new theory, at least for my blog, of talent migration. Young adults (i.e. recent college graduates) are remarkably adaptive to their chosen environment. They move to what they think is a desirable place and then set about finding the means to stick. All the talk about figuring out a way to make life easier for twentysomethings in Rust Belt cities is backwards. Talent is willing to fight to gain just a toehold in Chicago or New York City.
Don't incentivize risk averse behavior.
I'm even more curious about the latent migration to talent hot spots. (See "Geography of Recovery") Just because unemployment is high, doesn't mean that there is no reason to move to Charlotte. From Growthology:
Viewing the economy as a dynamic rather than a static system yields paradigm-shifting insights. The most spectacular in my experience has been understanding that the rate of job losses is much less important than the static perspective can understand. So, the fact that that media trumpets "job loss" stories during downturns emphasizes exactly the wrong thing. What causes a net decline in employment is not, in fact, job losses but a collapse in hiring.
While more and more people are actively searching for work, that doesn't mean there isn't any job creation. The numbers we fixate usually indicate net jobs available. In Pittsburgh, the contraction of manufacturing dominates the regional Great Recession story:
Notice the job growth in the above graph. Typically, that doesn't do someone out of work in the manufacturing sector any good. Ah, but it might entice young talent as an opportunity. The overall economic indicators may look dire, but that doesn't mean there aren't any jobs available for college graduates willing to relocate.