College grads flock to major, burgeoning metros
Sean McMinn, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent10:38 a.m. EDT May 11, 2013
Large metro areas such as New York and Los Angeles have drawn the highest numbers of recent graduates
Places such as Sacramento, Calif., however, have lost graduates over recent years
Different areas attract graduates with different skill sets
Twenty-somethings have flocked to America's largest metros after graduation in recent years, according to a USA TODAY analysis of U.S. Census data. New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles have provided nearly 400,000 jobs to recent graduates from 2006 to 2011, accounting for nearly 25% of the increase nationally.
People ages 20 to 30 with a bachelor's degree or higher in the nation's top 100 metro areas increased by more than 1.4 million in that period. While areas such as New York provide traditional hubs for young graduates, others have experienced a rise as well. Some smaller metro areas are seeing 30%-40% increases, such as Houston, San Francisco and Austin.
In Houston, oil companies are hiring young engineers from electrical, mechanical and marine engineering backgrounds. More than 50,000 recent graduates have grown up or moved there since 2006. That is the result of what Patrick Jankowski, Greater Houston Partnership vice president of research, calls a substantial increase in high-paying jobs mainly in engineering.
"If you have an engineering degree or a highly technical skill ... like chemistry or something like that, you can find a job in Houston," Jankowski says. "We can put you to work within weeks."
Younger engineers are finding work in Houston because of its relatively new history, Jankowski says. Houston, though incorporated in the 1800s, only saw significant growth begin in the 1970s. As Jankowski puts it: "We don't care who your daddy is or how much money you have; we want to know what you can do for us."
As college students went looking for work, they saw the job outlook take a hit from the recession. Unemployment for 20- to 29-year-olds rose from 6.6% to 12.3% over the five-year period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Larger cities also generally received more from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated $787 billion across the country in stimulus money, creating some of the brightest job spots in the country.
It may also reflect young college grads returning home to familiar areas after finishing school, says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. An additional 400,000 young college grads in the metro areas were unemployed or not in the labor force. They may be looking for jobs, going to grad school or raising kids, for example.
"A lot of it has to do with young people sort of hunkering down in urban areas, or with their parents, or with communities that they find provide support for them," Frey says. "They weren't able to get mortgages on houses they would have been able to in the past."
Combined with the availability of jobs in some booming metro areas, he says, it could account for a larger trend of Americans of all ages moving away from the suburbs and into metros.
New York which added just over 150,000 young employed grads saw an increase of more than 25% since 2006. The Washington area had the largest increase of the big four, with a 35% gain.
"They're big, they're fun, they're attractive," says Ashley Pinney, 26, a career adviser at Elon University in North Carolina who helps students transition to New York City and Los Angeles. "There's a ton of jobs here in Raleigh or Durham and Greensboro, and they're easier to get. But they're not New York City or L.A."
The draw of moving to a larger area after graduation, Pinney says, depends on what students major in. Those who go to New York City often come from arts and entertainment backgrounds, while those who end up in Los Angeles tend to look for jobs in communications.
"Even the students who want to stay in the state are looking for bigger cities, because they're looking for those jobs," Pinney says.
On the West Coast, San Francisco is becoming another destination for recent grads. With the now deep-rooted tech industry in Silicon Valley, areas such as San Jose and San Francisco are drawing students with software engineering and computer-science skills. The two metro areas combined have brought in more than 66,000 graduates since 2006.
For Stephani Alves, who graduated from UCLA in April, there is a sharp contrast between the two areas. Alves, 27, says living and working in San Jose limits her social interactions with other young adults. Many events there, she says, are focused on work: Start-up Weekends and "hackathons" provide regular entertainment.
"I think San Jose, it's a little bit dead. There's not much to do," she says.
The appeals of living in a larger city, however, make San Francisco different.
"If you go to San Francisco it's about an hour drive there's a lot of clubs and bars and stuff," Alves says. "I go there pretty often. There are a lot of young people out."
Providing a distinct contrast, nearby Sacramento lost more than 5,000 graduates since 2006, the most in USA TODAY's analysis. Combined with Riverside and Fresno, two other California cities near the bottom of the list, the areas lost about 21,000 graduates total.
The data come from the American Community Survey, an annual national survey by the Census Bureau. USA TODAY used a special extract provided by the University of Minnesota's Population Studies Center.
Contributing: Paul Overberg, Jodi Upton