Millennials Making Moves in the Mile High City

November 2, 2017

If you’ve noticed an increase in the number of younger people living in the Denver Metro area lately, there’s a reason for that. According to a 2016 article in The New York Times (entitled, perhaps to the chagrin of many Denverites, “Denver’s Appeal to Millennials? Jobs, Mountains and, Yes, Weed”), an analysis of population movement found a net annual gain of 12,682 people between 25 and 34 from 2009-2014—putting the Mile High City at the top of the list nationwide.

No wonder it’s so tough to get a table for brunch on any given Saturday…

We know, we know. Jokes about millennials, much like millennials themselves, are getting kind of old—especially the snide comments about everyone in their 20s living in their parents’ basements. There is, however, a grain of truth here. According to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, there are more people between 18 and 34 currently living with their parents than at any other time in modern U.S. history. The reasons for this have been explored at length elsewhere, but they include the high cost of housing, exploding student loan debt, low wage growth, and slightly more welcoming attitudes about such living arrangements among millennials’ parents (here’s looking at you, baby boomers).

But is Denver bucking the trend? Possibly, according to a recent story in The Denver Post:

[I]n metro Denver, only 25.5 percent of millennials, defined as those 18 to 34, were still living at home. That is the fourth lowest stay-at-home rate after Austin, Texas; Seattle; and Columbus, Ohio.

Those three cities, along with Denver, have been magnets for millennial migration. When you have left town, living with your parents ceases to be an option. But economics appear to offer the greatest explanation.

What sets Denver apart…is that millennials here are not only more likely to have a job, but to earn a higher wage when they do find work compared to other metros. At $2,482, the median monthly income of all metro Denver millennials ranked highest outside of Seattle and San Francisco. And Denver’s millennial unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is the lowest in the country after Kansas City and ahead of the 10.1 percent millennial unemployment rate nationally.

One potential factor not mentioned in the article is Denver’s diverse economy, with health care, professional services, and finance among the top 10 industries. One upside to carrying all that student loan debt is being able to work in a higher paying industry (fingers crossed) as a result of having a college degree. Of course, public employers are among the possible landing spots for younger Coloradans, with Denver Public Schools and the University of Colorado both in the top 10 employers looking to hire.

In fact (brace yourself for this one, millennial haters), as of 2015, there were more Coloradans between 20 and 34 than there were between 55 and 74—both in the Denver area and in the state as a whole. However, given the rising cost of living, it’s unclear whether young people will continue to arrive in droves; 19% of young people who responded to a recent survey listed landing their dream home or apartment as a reason they would stay in their current city. 

No matter what happens, Colorado offers a unique way of life to those who choose to stay or come. And, as the next generation (we’ll stop short of calling them anything specific, but we’ll hazard a guess it won’t be the banal “generation Z”) comes of age, an entirely new set of people will be learning why Colorado is the best state in the country.

By that time, hopefully we’ll have gotten our mimosas refilled...