We’ve all seen the headlines crediting the revitalization of cities to millennials. Yes, those pourover-sipping, blanket-scarf-wearing, bicycle-riding young people want easy access to jobs, culture, and community. They want walkable neighborhoods, fancy coffee shops, and boutique stores selling artisan crafts. Where’s the easiest place to find all these things? Surprisingly, it’s not where you would expect.
Suburbs Are the New Cities
You see, someone out there is jealous of cities hogging the millennial spotlight. Suburbs and small towns have seen what attracts millennials to the bright city lights, and they’ve tried to cater to it. Art galleries, coworking spaces, cocktail bars – attractions that would seem out-of-place in a typical strip mall. Suburbs and small towns are developing urban centers to recreate a downtown atmosphere, thus creating community centers like ones in larger cities. If millennials are moving back to the suburbs, they expect the same amenities as the city life they’ve abandoned.
There’s also an economic component to this scheme. During the 2008 Great Recession, suburbs and small towns were pummeled by foreclosure, job loss, and cutbacks in state funding. Yet the 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas experienced less damage than the surrounding suburbs. Many people in urban centers could ride out the economic downturn and take advantage of the later recovery as property values skyrocketed and companies began hiring again. Thus, people flocked to the cities because that’s where the jobs were. Housing booms started, cost of livings increased, and millennials struggled to catch-up.
Researchers believe that when the economy recovers the urban/suburban equilibrium will return to its historical norms. People will move back to the suburbs when they start families or decide living in the city is too expensive. These researchers argue that the economy drives whether city populations increase or decrease. The problem isn’t that millennials prefer cities to the suburbs – it’s that economic conditions have made cities our only option.
City Living is Out of Reach for Many Millennials
For decades we’ve been told that moving to the city is how to make it big. We think landing a high-powered corporate job with a six-figure salary is the key to a happy life. As long as we put in 60-80 hour weeks and pick up a side hustle to make ends meet, we will make our way up that corporate ladder!
Nevermind that we’re burdened by outrageous housing costs and working for stagnant wages while the cost of living has skyrocketed. Disregard our lack of economic mobility that leaves us stuck in shared apartments and group houses. We cannot afford to compete in real estate markets where one-bedroom condos sell for $500,000 and houses go for millions. The only way to afford an urban lifestyle is to make more money. A higher salary means being tied to a job to support that lifestyle, which may not allow for other creative or philanthropic pursuits without a hefty safety net.
Millennials aren’t playing this game anymore. They are tired of the urban rat race and want a lifestyle that reflects their values. A life in which the cost-of-living is reasonable, the community is meaningful, and the air is a little bit cleaner. Somewhere that rewards hard work, not bravado. A life in which no one has to be tied to a six-figure paycheck to support an unsustainable, consumer-driven pipe dream. So they move to small towns and rural areas, where the pace of life is slower and the ability to hustle isn’t your defining feature.
Remote Jobs: Funding the Exodus
Many of these millennials rely on remote work based in the big cities they’re escaping. As more companies shift toward virtual offices and teleworking, people can work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi signal. The Internet has made geography obsolete by allowing people to live wherever they want. Because of this shift, millennials are decamping to small towns in rural areas to embrace a simpler life. They want the small town hospitality and the big city paycheck.
The Frugalwoods family did just this when they moved from the Boston area to a homestead in Vermont. They chose a balanced, fulfilling lifestyle over the convenience of urban living. Their decision was born out of a desire to work the land, live amongst nature, and become part of a close-knit community. Both Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods work remotely so they can maintain their homestead and care for their newborn daughter. Their transition would have been much tougher if they had to rely on a 9-5 office job to make ends meet. Now they have the freedom to enjoy their 66 acres and feel more connected to their home, their family, and their community.
Granted, this lifestyle is a privileged one. Not everyone can uproot their life and maintain a high-figure salary. Many people in small towns also struggle with increasing living expenses, and the influx of newcomers makes it harden for them to get by. Should we fault millennials for seeking a living situation that’s financially sustainable? It’s one thing to adopt a certain lifestyle because it suits your needs. It’s another to take advantage of economic disparity to facilitate that lifestyle. We hope that millennials moving to small towns make a positive impact in their communities. What’s the point of small town life if we don’t take part?
Bottom Line: Make the Best Choice for You
As we’ve mentioned before, our goal is to one day move to a small mountain town. We’ve had our fill of city life, and we think a quieter life in the country is more our speed. At the same time, we don’t pass judgment on anyone who wants to make the right decisions for their lifestyle. Whether that means a high-rise apartment in the city or a little farmhouse, we want everyone to make the choice that works for them. Don’t do it because it’s expected or because it’s what everyone else has done. Figure out what’s right for you.