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Best U.S. cities for millennials are in the Midwest, South, says new study

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Based on jobs, affordability, and livability, Pittsburgh gets top ranking

Pittsburgh’s growing tech scene and low cost of living put it on top of a new study looking at the best metros for millennials.
Ronald Woan

As cities jockey for position with each other to make their case for the coveted new Amazon headquarters, and the jobs and prosperity assumed to go along with it, many of the arguments being made center on the workforce. Which metros have the talent, housing, and healthy job market needed to satisfy the online retail giant, which is expected to employ up to 50,000 workers in whichever city they chose?

A report released earlier this morning by Apartment List, while not related to the Amazon municipal dating game in any way, does seek to answer a related and important question: which cities offer the greatest economic potential for millennials?

More frequently on the move and assumed to be looking for more economic opportunity—from 2007 to 2012, millennials made up 24 percent of the total U.S. population, but accounted for 43 percent of all movers in the United States, according to Census data—this demographic has typically been expected to cluster on the coasts for better job prospects. But this new analysis offers a different picture.

The analysis, which analyzed the top 75 metros, focused on three main factors which were equally weighted: jobs, including median wages, growth, and millennial employment; affordability, including rent and the share of households that can become homeowners, based on median home prices; and livability, based on a survey of 24,000 renters opinions of weather, crime rates, as well as access to parks and nightlife.

Apartment List 10 Best Metros for Millennials

Rank Metro Overall Grade Job Score Affordability Livability Score
Rank Metro Overall Grade Job Score Affordability Livability Score
1 Pittsburgh, PA A+ 69 94 53
2 Provo, UT A+ 69 62 84
3 Madison, WI A+ 79 50 81
4 San Antonio, TX A+ 59 57 85
5 Columbus, OH A+ 55 76 66
6 Charleston, SC A+ 66 34 96
6 Omaha, NE A+ 69 83 43
8 Oklahoma City, OK A+ 71 90 34
9 Houston, TX A+ 76 59 55
10 Minneapolis, MN A 67 51 73
Apartment List

While the study’s definition of the Midwest may be stretching it a bit, since both Pittsburgh and Omaha, Nebraska, are included, the formula being advocated—growing tech scene, affordable housing, and good amenities—seems pretty straightforward and popular. Both Pittsburgh and Provo, Utah, the two top picks, have been celebrated for their growing tech scenes. In addition to a raft of reports and articles talking about the city’s growing tech sector, a new report from the Brookings Institution just found that Pittsburgh’s per capita university research and development (R&D) spending was nearly two and a half times the national average, and its millennial population has risen 37.3 percent between 2000 and 2013. Provo was recently proclaimed one of the nation’s fastest-growing metros by the Wall Street Journal.

Per the study, if millennials were focused on jobs alone, low millennial unemployment, high wages, and strong wage growth, would make coastal markets such as Washington, D.C., San Jose, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, which earn top rankings, the best picks.

Not surprisingly, the question of affordability also knocked out many perennial and popular contenders. Five California metro areas—San Jose, San Francisco, Oxnard, San Diego, and Los Angeles—rank in the bottom 10 when it comes to affordability, as do New York City, Boston, and Miami. According to the authors, Denver’s recent and rapid rent increases also lowered its overall score.