Millennials, a loosely defined generation that includes those born between 1980 and the early 1990s, or that stretches into the early 2000s, depending on whom you ask, are notoriously indecisive. Not through any sort of defect, but simply because they have so many more options than any previous generation.
Deciding where to live is among the most important choices millennials face. It’s important to search for the right city or town, factoring in not just job opportunities, but things like public transportation, the local arts and music scene, restaurants and bars, access to organic food and sustainable resources, and the intangible coolness of a place.
The cities on this list have been chosen by demographics, (including statistics on how many millennials live there), median monthly rent (cheaper is better) and general entertainment value (mainly restaurants and nightlife).
While previous generations flocked to cities like New York and Los Angeles, a number of other cities are growing more appealing — and in many cases, remain much more affordable — as new industries take root, drawing in people from diverse backgrounds.
Here are a few cities millennials are now choosing to call home:
1. Austin, Texas
“Keep Austin Weird” is the motto in the capital of the Lone Star State, and the locals oblige. But Austin isn’t “weird” in the traditional, off-putting sense. Rather, it’s quirky, and charmingly so. (Check out Richard Linklater’s classic film “Slacker” for a little Austin sensibility.)
Austin is home to a diverse art scene, and the inventive food is off-the-charts incredible, from local staples like Franklin Barbecue, to cutting edge, affordable cuisine served largely out of food trucks. Want to explore Austin’s food truck scene? There’s an app for that.
Austin is also home to two of the nation’s biggest music festivals: Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, the latter also celebrates film and technology.
Upon crunching the numbers, we learn that Austin isn’t just cool, it’s also affordable — especially considering its size. The median rent is $936 per month, according to Niche.com, while the median individual income is $30,816, more than $4,000 above the national average. The median home value is almost equal to the national average at $186,300, a steal if you consider this is in a major metropolitan area. (Compare Austin’s home prices to the average home value in New York City: $440,400).
People between the ages of 24 and 34 comprise the biggest single chunk of the overall population at 17 percent, which means millennials moving to the city will be in good company. For future consideration, the Austin public school system is top-notch, home to two of the Top 10 high schools in the state of Texas.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
One Saturday night during freshman year of college, I was wandering near Boston’s Government Center, which seemed desolate. “This city is dead at night,” I muttered to a friend, figuring everyone comes in just for work and retires to the suburbs at night. But as it turned out, I was completely wrong, as I spent the next four years discovering.
I might be biased in my love for the City on a Hill, but the numbers speak for themselves. For instance, Boston is a city of commerce, with an unemployment rate below the national average at 5.3 percent, according to Niche.com. Boston is also incredibly educated, with a staggering 66 percent of the population having pursued some level of higher education beyond high school. For a city of such opportunity, one might expect the cost of living to be unbearable, and it does have a reputation for being expensive. But the median rent in the greater Boston area is quite reasonable, all things considered, at $1,163 per month.
From the bustling red-sauce joints of the North End to the wonderfully unpretentious pubs of Somerville’s Davis Square, the area is full of rich culture, happening nightlife, and a ton of people between the ages of 18 and 34 — a whopping 24 percent of the population. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 54 percent of Bostonian women and 59 percent of men are single and have never been married. Date night at Fenway, anyone?
3. Jersey City, New Jersey
Attempting to find an inexpensive yet funky place to live with a hassle-free commute to New York City is like trying to discover the world’s greatest indie band before they hit it big. Because once they do, ticket prices go way, way up. The same is true for rent — when the trendy crowd latches on to a place, the cost of living is bound to skyrocket.
Most of Brooklyn lost its affordable status long ago. Hoboken had its time in the sun, but now it’s hard to find a one-bedroom apartment there for under $2,000 per month. But Jersey City is still manageable (median rent is $1,127), and it’s an easy commute to Manhattan.
With 22 percent of the population between the ages of 24 and 34, Jersey City is full of young professionals who have had enough of New York City’s high cost of living and are looking for a little more bang for their buck. While its proximity to everything New York has to offer is a major selling point, Jersey City itself boasts some amazing and authentic cultural cuisine that showcases the tremendous ethnic diversity of the area — from the tastiest mofongo this side of San Juan, to mouth-watering al pastor tacos, to inspired Korean-Mexican-French fusion fare, to one of the greatest Italian subs, maybe ever. (Hyperbole aside, it’s really good.)
Now is the time to move to Jersey City, before the rest of the world catches on and it becomes the next Williamsburg.
4. Portland, Oregon
Let’s get this out in the open: Portland stole its city’s slogan (Keep Portland Weird) from Austin. But that’s just about the only negative thing you can say about this millennial paradise. (OK, it can get a bit drizzly, too.) If you’ve ever visited this gem of the Pacific Northwest or even chuckled at the offbeat satire “Portlandia,” you know that this is a city unique in some pretty great ways.
Portland boasts more than 70 microbreweries and a huge live-music scene. It is the birthplace of what is arguably some of the best coffee in the country. Coffee shops from Los Angeles to New York brew beans from Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters. (The nickname “Stumptown” comes from the city’s earliest days, when trees were cut down to make way for roads, but the stumps stayed stubbornly stuck in the ground.)
Portland also does pretty well at the numbers game, according to Niche.com. Median earnings are slightly higher than the national average at $29,213 annually, while median rent — $866 per month — is pretty low if you consider all that Portland has to offer. Twenty-four percent of residents are between the ages of 18 and 34, meaning that millennials make up nearly one-quarter of the population of this eco-friendly city, which Popular Science crowned the greenest in America.
5. San Diego, California
For many California residents, San Diego has more appeal than Los Angeles. That is true despite the fact that L.A. has the allure of Hollywood and a population four times that of its neighbor to the south.
In fact, many Angelenos hit the road on the weekend to take the scenic two-hour trip to lovely San Diego, home to the Chargers, Mission Beach, and the San Diego Zoo, which, according to TripAdvisor users, is the second-best zoo in the country.
But San Diego has so much more to offer to those who choose to stay longer than a weekend. The perks start with the fact that 22 percent of the population is between the ages of 18 and 34. The unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, while the median individual income is high at $30,196 a year. Even though median rents are a bit steep at $1,261 per month, they get decidedly lower if you move a bit inland. The city is also incredibly ethnically diverse. And with just 43 days of measurable precipitation a year, according to the National Weather Service, you’ll rarely have to check the weather as you venture out for a hike at Torrey Pines, a peek at the seals in La Jolla, or a sunset stroll along the Mission Beach boardwalk.
6. Denver, Colorado
One of the fastest-growing cities in the United States in 2013, Denver is poised on the precipice of a renaissance. All the important players are in place — median salaries are well above the national average ($32,422 annually) while median rent is relatively low ($902 per month), according to Niche.com. The city’s unemployment rate is well below the national average and continues to fall: it was 4 percent in September 2014, down from 6.2 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a result, millennials have begun to flock to Denver, and 24 percent of current residents are between the ages of 18 and 34. The city boasts four professional league sports teams, a nationally renowned outdoor-music venue that hosts some of the hottest acts in the country, and 300 days of sunshine per year.
For those who love the outdoors, Denver is only a few hours’ drive from the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. The city is also a bike rider’s paradise, thanks to the 40-mile Cherry Creek Trail. This route extends from downtown Denver into many area suburbs, making it a great commute to work or scenic recreational ride.
7. New Orleans, Louisiana
Forget everything you’ve heard on the news or seen on “Cops: Mardi Gras.” The millennials who live in New Orleans year-round will tell you it’s a city that gets better every day.
Chances are you’ll be able to find work in a variety of industries, with unemployment hovering about 0.4 percentage points below the national average at 5.3 percent, according to Niche.com. In addition, 24 percent of the population is between the ages of 18 and 34, which represents a massive 71 percent increase since 2007.
Job opportunities in the world of film and TV production are some of the most abundant east of Hollywood, thanks to generous state tax credits and lot of local talent, while the cost of living is decidedly lower than in Los Angeles. Median rent is $913 per month (compared to $1,218 in Los Angeles), while the average home value is $179,500 (compared to a staggering $501,900 in Los Angeles, nearly three times the national average of $186,200).
Despite being hailed as the “next Hollywood,” New Orleans’ three biggest industries are defense/aerospace, energy and tourism, with a 2 percent overall job growth rate in 2013. What differentiates New Orleans from the rest of the nation is its unique cuisine and wide variety of culinary experiences, from celebrity chef John Besh’s award-winning Restaurant August, to the classic and classy NOLA haunt, Commander’s Palace. Of course, there’s always Café Du Monde in the French Quarter, serving up some of the city’s best beignets since 1862.
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