Is Portland About to Run Out of Millennials?

Portland economist says The New York Times is wrong: The surge of millennials into cities will not slow down.

(Christine Dong)

Yesterday, in its Upshot column, the New York Times took a position that, if correct, could send shivers through Portland's real estate community.

"Over the past decade, many American cities have been transformed by young professionals of the millennial generation, with downtowns turning into bustling neighborhoods full of new apartments and pricey coffee bars," the Times' Conor Dougherty writes. "But soon, cities may start running out of millennials."

Certainly, Portland has been one of the cities that has experienced the greatest impacts from the influx of young, well-educated migrants.

Their flocking to Portland has been a mixed blessing, strengthening the economy and the prevalence of amenities such as good restaurants but also pushing up housing costs. The profusion of construction cranes towering over the city—25 at last count—is a reflection of their impact.

But Portland economist Joe Cortright says you shouldn't sell short on Salt & Straw.

Cortright's view, contrary to the Times' angle, is that millennials will continue to flood into cities and the influx will continue for a long time.

"The essence of the Upshot story is two claims: (1) that the impact of millennials on cities will decline because their numbers will decrease, and (2) that their propensity to choose to live in urban settings will decline," writes Cortright at the City Observatory blog.

To contradict that argument, Cortright employs two charts, one showing that the number is millennials will continue to grow for several more years and then will hold fairly steady until at least 2035.

And Cortright says there's every reason for the strong trend of millennials preferring to live in cities to continue. Here's how that preference has changed over time:

"The number of 25 to 34 year olds—the key group driving urban living, will not decline, but will grow between now and 2024," Cortright concludes. "The urban wave we've experienced starting in the 1990s, and accelerating in the past decade wasn't propelled by generational growth, so much as by a growing preference for urban living by young adults."

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