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Debunking the 'Millennials Are Fleeing Cities' Narrative

One of the most-read stories in the urbanism world last week was a Wall Street Journal article about young people between the ages of 25 to 39 leaving the largest U.S. cities. Not so fast with all that, says Jose Cortright.
October 7, 2019, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"It’s hard to underestimate the journalistic zeal to report a contrarian story. In the world of urbanism, a recent favorite has been 'young adults are leaving cities,'" writes Joe Cortright. "We’ve repeatedly debunked previous iterations of this particular species of weed, but unsurprisingly, it’s back."

The Wall Street Journal; first reported the Census data showing 27,000 people between the ages of 25 and 39 leaving big cities from 2017 and 2018. Crain's New York Business and, yes, Planetizen aggregated and shared that original story. We're not afraid to follow up that coverage with this criticism of the analysis presented in those articles, as written by Cortright:

“Tens of thousands” sounds pretty impressive number, unless you understand that there are more than 10 million 25 to 39 year olds living in cities with a population of 500,000 or more. (This basic contextual statistic is not included in the WSJ article.) So a decline of 27,000 represents a decrease on the order of one-quarter of one percent.  That’s neither “large” nor “an exodus.”

According to Cortright, that kind of total is within the margin of error, and is more noise than signal. "Reporting a much smaller than margin of error change in a population subgroup as showing that young adults are leaving cities is the statistical equivalent of using a winter snowstorm as evidence that the global climate is not warming."

The article includes more criticism of the WSJ's methodology, as well as one example of a city—Portland, Oregon—showing evidence of increasing numbers of this key demographic.   

Full Story:
Published on Friday, October 4, 2019 in City Observatory
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