Forecasters: Philly's millennial transplants will depart for the 'burbs. Millennials: Nah

MILL10-F
Jack Styczynski, 32, an urgent care doctor living in Philadelphia for the last two years, stands near the new Rail Park construction, not far from his Poplar neighborhood. He’s not going anywhere soon.

No, Philadelphia’s millennial transplants haven’t run off to the suburbs just yet.

Researchers have been curious about what’s happening to the young people who moved to the city from 2005 to 2016 — a 41 percent hike, bigger than that experienced by any of the 10 other  largest U.S. metropolises.

Has the influx slowed? Have the suburbs gained as people pair, have kids, and think about schools?

When JLL, a local real estate research firm, analyzed the migration of 18- to 34-year-olds, it found that most of the key demographic’s growth occurred between 2008 and 2010, but not much since.

And there’s no evidence that the suburbs are gaining on the city. The two most popular suburban counties for millennials were Delaware and Montgomery. Delaware County’s millennial growth rate from 2005 to 2016 was 28.5 percent, while Montgomery County’s was 20 percent. Both jurisdictions trail Philadelphia and have overall growth rates that have stagnated in recent years.

Growth in Millennials

Since 2005, Philadelphia’s population of 18- to 34-year-olds has increased by 41 percent, far outpacing that age group’s growth in the Pa. suburbs, South Jersey, and the nation. Most of that growth occurred in just two years, 2009 and 2010, when the number of the city’s millennial residents grew by more than  100,000.
Cumulative percentage change in the 18- to 34-year-old population since 2005
Staff Graphic

Studies of the city’s millennials have warned that the boom is fragile. In 2014, half of the young people polled by the Pew Charitable Trusts predicted that they’d be gone in 10 years, citing concerns about jobs, schools, crime and safety.

But while locals routinely acknowledge (and even celebrate) that Philly has its haters, the city continues to enjoy popularity with new arrivals. The national growth rate for 18- to 34-year-olds was 15.9 percent between 2005 and 2016; Philadelphia’s rate is 2.6 times that number.

“We are far outweighing our perceived millennial attraction,” said Lauren Gilchrist, JLL’s director of research for Philadelphia.

It’s not that the suburbs are bad, Jack Styczynski explained during a leisurely visit to ReAnimator Coffee in Kensington on Thursday. Styczynski, 32, grew up in Troy, N.Y., but made the move from Boston to Philly for a medical residency four years ago. He hasn’t left since.

“I like being able to walk out on a beautiful Thursday and wander into Fishtown or Center City,” said Styczynski, who lives in the neighborhood north of the Callowhill lofts that residents call Poplar. “It’s nice having everything at your fingertips.”

In unofficial surveys conducted at a couple Philadelphia coffee shops, millennial transplants touted the city’s walkability, affordability and growing restaurant scene. Newer arrivals also praised Philly’s abundance of parks.

Some who’ve made Philadelphia home did not expect to stay. Lawrence Watling moved from his native Long Island to attend Temple University.

“I always had New York in the back of my mind,” said Watling, 24, a COO of a local music agency. “I’m a New York boy, New York sports, the hustle and bustle and all that.”

He landed a job as an international marketing assistant for Atlantic Records and moved to New York for the position. He stayed for four months. His love for Philly hadn’t really let go.

“It’s been a good mindset shift,” the University City resident explained, “because Philly isn’t temporary. It’s my home now.”

Gilchrist said enhanced economic activity has allowed Philly to retain more new graduates from local universities. She also pointed to rising fuel prices to explain why young people may prefer carless commutes.

“You see a bit of a sea change with millennials with where they want to spend their money,” she said. The house with the picket fence? Not so hot these days. “Millennials,” she said, “want to spend their money on experiences.”

Mary Garten grew up in Dobbs Ferry, a suburb of New York City, but she now lives in Port Richmond.

As a restaurant worker, she isn’t sure she will be able to become a homeowner. If that happens, it will be in the city, she predicted. “It doesn’t feel as insular and atomized [here] as the suburbs. I like to be where the people are, you know?”

Philadelphia began to experience population growth in the late 2000s, reversing population declines that had persisted for more than five decades. College-educated millennials have been a key driver of urban revival, but population research reveals a more complex picture. Even with young people falling for urban living, many American cities have still seen overall population loss, and Philadelphia owes much of its population growth to immigrants and newly born residents.

Millennials are a generation often defined as those born from the early 1980s to late 1990s. Rather than tracking a generation, JLL’s research follows an age group. The thirtysomethings first captured in 2005 have aged out of the bracket, as younger teens have aged into it. The boom has plateaued — and some researchers have interpreted this as a sign of reaching “peak millennial,” with numbers of young people bound inevitably to go down from here.

Gilchrist said it’s still too soon to call. Many younger members of the demographic are still in school, making it too early to predict their long-term housing preferences.

“I think it’s possible that we’ve reached peak millennial,” Gilchrist said. “Just because we’ve reached the peak doesn’t mean we’ve gone over a cliff because the numbers are holding constant at this point.”

Many local transplants said they might consider leaving the city limits in the future, whether it’s for work, or to raise kids outside of the city. Watling said that he and his girlfriend have thought of it, but “we haven’t remotely put a time stamp on it because we love living in the city so much.”