Land of (unexpected) opportunity

Faced with a tight job market, young people are moving less and finding opportunity closer to home.

It’s a familiar story: Young people leaving Cleveland in droves for the bright, shiny bubbles of San Francisco, Miami or Las Vegas.

For a generation reared in a place called the Rust Belt, leaving here was a Kerouac-like dream, an “On the Road” for the 20-something set. There was more opportunity, more sunshine, more something on the Coasts. And of course, there were more young people there, too.

Yet this exodus is no longer a fait accompli. Although young people continue to flee older cities like Cleveland, new census numbers reveal that the rate has gone down since the 2007 recession.

As the most mobile part of the work force, young people aren’t moving as rapidly to so-called bubble cities. The job market is tight and unemployment among college grads is high. The bubble has burst; the land of opportunity is no longer.

Moreover, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution, this trend is impacting cities across the country. Migration patterns are lower than they’ve been at any time since World War II, demographer William Frey says in the report. Not only have the coasts cooled off, but young people aren’t moving – except in with their parents.

Now that 20-somethings are sticking closer to home, cities have an unparalleled opportunity to show their stuff, Frey’s report says. The job market will remain tight for years, especially in boomtowns such as Chicago and New York.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Cleveland’s economy is getting better. A recent L.A. Times article gave kudos to Cleveland’s economic development efforts, suggesting that our retooled economy is growing again. But can we alter young people’s perceptions and convince them to stay?

The key, experts say, is creating jobs and opportunities for them; marketing our affordability, arts and culture and neighborhoods; and connecting young people to social and civic networks. To uncover the story of how young people are adapting and thriving in Cleveland, we’ve profiled three who are finding unexpected opportunities.

Cover story in the April 2011 issue of the Greater University Circle Neighborhood Voice. For a PDF of the entire issue with profiles of three young professionals in Cleveland, click here.

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