6 Questions to Find the Best City for Generation Y
As young adults, many of us enjoy a unique time in our lives when we can relocate wherever we like. We’re often free from any significant ties, such as kids or a mortgage, that can tether us to a certain location. Plus, with the technological advances of the past decade, we need not fear losing touch with family and friends; we can stay connected with the touch of a button -- regardless of distance.
So when the world is your oyster, how do you decide in which part to settle? Here are six questions to ask when figuring out which city is best for you:
1) Will I find good work there?
In today’s tough market, Generation Y has had a particularly difficult time finding and keeping a job: While the job market struggles to regain its footing, with the national unemployment rate at 9.5% as of June, 25- to 34-year-olds suffer joblessness at a 10.3% rate, and 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed at a staggering 15.3% rate. But some areas have held up better against the recession. Austin, Tex., Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., for example, have experienced lower unemployment than the rest of the country.
Jobs in certain industries are more prevalent in some areas. For example, if you’re interested in politics, the nation’s capital is the obvious choice. Or if you aspire to “make it work” as fashion’s next hot designer, the Big Apple might suit you best. If you have no particular trade in mind yet, look to big cities with opportunities in a wide range of fields. (For career ideas that promise a bright future, see 13 Careers for the Next Decade.)
To jump-start your career, look for job-training services or small-business incubators in your next city. Growing towns with smart leaders -- such as the 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade we revealed this spring -- spark their economies by helping to connect talent and ideas with businesses and investors. These services hold networking events, educational seminars and other mixers, and they can give you guidance if you’re looking to start your own business. You should reach out to them, too, for possible internships or volunteer opportunities in the area.
2) Who lives there?
Sure, you can check up on your Facebook friends wherever you go, but you want to settle in a place where you can establish a solid social network. Areas where you already have family or friends make a lot of sense. And try locations that are populated with a good number of other young people. Not only will you feel more comfortable having neighbors in a similar situation as you, you’ll also create connections that could prove helpful in a job hunt. (For more tips on how to network to boost your career, both online and off, see 7 Ways to Use Social-Networking to Land Your Next Job and How New Grads Can Compete in the Job Market.) While Generation Y represents a substantial 20.4% of the country, in D.C., Salt Lake City, and Austin, young adults make up a whopping 27.5%, 28.8% and 30% of the respective populations. Other Gen Y–heavy states, where we're more than a quarter of the population, include Illinois and Kansas.
3) What colleges and universities does the city offer?
According to a recent survey from staffing firm Robert Half, 20% of Gen Y respondents -- which the firm defines as 21- to 31-year olds – plan to head back to school. Look to cities with strong grad schools in your field so that you can enhance your professional education as you work. (Mind you, technology makes it possible to obtain a degree from anywhere with a decent Internet connection.)
Many of the places on our list of great cities for Gen Y host an abundance of colleges and universities with quality graduate programs. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Texas’s Austin McCombs School of Business as the best graduate accounting program. Other top ten business schools come in pairs in Chicago (Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business) and New York (Columbia Business School and New York University’s Stern School of Business).
4) How much is rent?
You might not be looking to buy a home quite yet. (If you’re thinking about it, see Should You Rent of Buy?) But you still need to familiarize yourself with the housing markets of the towns you’d consider moving to. Rent is going to eat a big portion of your monthly expenses. In fact, according to Mint.com (one of our favorite budgeting sites), housing takes up 34% of the average person’s monthly expenses. While the median monthly rent for the nation is $819 per unit, Kansas City, Lansing, Mich., and Salt Lake City have median rents under $700.
5) How is the commute?
Nobody likes sitting in gridlock on the daily. So convenient public transportation and close proximity between work and home are important factors to take into account. Plus, an efficient public-transit system can save you all the costs of owning a car.
Gen Y hipsters might also consider the green factor of your prospective city’s commuting situation. Besides subways, trains and buses, find out about local carshare or carpool programs. And check into how bicycle-friendly the city is, too. Many cities are establishing more bike paths around town and bike lanes on streets. Six of the cities on our list of great cities for young adults made Bicycling magazine’s top 50 list for best bike cities in the U.S. this year, and Portland, Seattle, NYC and Chicago made the top ten. (Plus, bicycle commuters qualify for tax benefits and save much more money by leaving the autos at home: See Benefits of Biking to Work Keep Adding Up and try our How Much Can I Save Biking to Work? calculator.)
6) Will I have fun there?
Be sure to pick a city that meshes with your preferred lifestyle. If you’re looking for a rocking music scene, for example, Austin has 200 live-music venues and annually hosts the famous South by Southwest festival, with nearly 2,000 musical acts performing on more than 80 stages around the city. If you desire more art in your life, you can’t beat Broadway for theater. And New York houses hundreds of galleries and world-class museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. But if you want more history from your museum visits, the District is the place to be. The Smithsonian Institute is composed of 19 museums, including the National Zoo -- all with free admission.