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As Older Generations Flee, Gen Z Heads to Cities Like Philly

A report found that the country’s five largest cities experienced net increases in the amount of residents ages 18 to 24 and decreases for all other generations in 2021; Philadelphia gained a net 6,200 young residents.

(TNS) — Moving to a big city? Slay. Or at least, that's how Gen Z sees it.

As older generations are trying to escape larger cities, Gen Z is flocking to them. Philadelphia is no exception.

A recent report shows that the country's five largest cities — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia — all experienced net increases in the number of Gen Z residents (ages 18 to 24) and net decreases for all other generations between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021. An analysis of the Census Bureau 2021 American Community Survey by Today's Homeowner revealed that Gen Z-ers are consistently breaking tradition with older generations' migration patterns, targeting the areas their predecessors now deem too expensive or too crowded.

In Philadelphia, census data estimates that 12,947 Gen Z movers settled into the city and 6,698 left, leaving a net migration of 6,249 new young residents. Other cities that pulled new young residents include Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Nashville, Tenn.

Today's Homeowner also noted that the millennial, Gen X, baby boomer, and silent generations are leaving larger cities, with Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, showing net decreases for all generations except Gen Z in 2021.

"It's no surprise to us that Gen Z is choosing Philadelphia," Visit Philadelphia CEO Angela Val said, citing the city's food and arts scenes, diversity, and "big city affordability." "Additionally, with the increase of a remote or hybrid work schedule, Philadelphia is an ideal home base or work-from-anywhere destination for Gen Zers looking for that ultimate urban live-work-play experience."

This isn't the first study that said young people think Philly's cool.

Last year, a report by CommercialCafe — a real-estate listing service — called Philadelphia the 13th-friendliest city for Gen Z based on quality-of-life factors like wifi speeds, entertainment, public transit options, ratio of parks per resident, and access to bars.

Still, it's not a new phenomenon for young people with less responsibility and more flexibility to feel pulled toward a big city.

As noted by The New York Times, people's tolerance for entry-level jobs and small urban apartments is highest when they are young adults. And since the late 2010s, the young adult population has been its highest in decades. The last time America had a big bubble of 25-year-olds was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During that period, a wave of twenty-somethings moved into big cities. The Times noted a similar boom of millennials moving into big cities in a 2017 article about the pattern.

But now that millennials (ages 25 to 44) are getting older, they are beginning to leave major cities for homes in suburban areas, a 2021 report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University said. According to the Today's Homeowner analysis, more millennials left New York City than any other generation, with 96,600 members fleeing.

"Gen Zers are new movers leaving parental homes or college and, like earlier generations at their age, move to cities because the job and leisure attractions," said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program.

Izzy Manahl moved from Iowa to Philadelphia in 2020. She lives in Fairmount and said she was drawn to the city because of its fun things to do and her personal politics.

Manahl, 25, had family in the city already, which made the transition easier. She said she enjoys having access to flea markets and music festivals, but was surprised by the city's extreme wealth disparities.

She's not surprised others her age are also moving.

"It's comforting to move to a city that shares the same values," she said.

Frey said that he thinks Gen Z could help revive cities, including Philadelphia, from the population losses they're enduring from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think city leaders need to do what they can to continue to make their downtowns and beyond attractive to this generation, [who are] not as jaded by the pandemic, [and] who are energetic and far more diverse than any generation to date," he said. "They are the best hope for future city revival."

(c)2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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