Metros for Millennials 24

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Best Places for Millennials to Live & Work in 2024 – Top 20 U.S. Metro Areas

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Millennials (currently aged 28 to 43) make up nearly 22% of America’s population. This makes their well-being important not only for themselves, but also for the broader U.S. economy. While major events like the Great Recession required them to adjust their economic expectations compared to their Baby Boomer parents, there are signs that this generation is finding its footing.

However, economic gains aren’t evenly spread. Rather, opportunities and challenges vary greatly across the country, making location a key factor. So, to help Millennials navigate these differences, we conducted our annual study on the best metro areas for them.

Specifically, we analyzed 105 metro areas with populations of more than 500,000 and evaluated them based on seven key metrics. These included indicators specific to Millennials, such as population growth; demographic share; income levels; access to employer-based health insurance; as well as metro-specific factors, like cost of living and unemployment rate.

Keep reading for the list of the top 20 best U.S. metros for Millennials, or navigate to the separate regional rankings using the following jump links:

Austin, Texas, Leads List as 7 of 20 Top Metros for Millennials Come From the South

Overall, Southern metros led with seven entries in the top 20, followed by Western metros with six, the Midwest with five and the Northeast with two.

Notably, the top-scoring spots in the categories were dominated by Austin, Texas, and San Jose, Calif. Austin excelled in both demographic metrics, while San Jose led in three categories, including the highest score for Millennial median income. Meanwhile, northwest Arkansas took the spot for lowest living costs, whereas Nashville, Tenn., had the lowest unemployment rate.

1 – Austin, Texas

Austin was the top U.S. metro area for Millennials, scoring 78 points compared to runner-up San Jose’s 72.  The Texas metro area has long been synonymous with sustained growth, expanding both in size and career opportunities alongside the Millennial generation. Additionally, Austin boasted the highest share of Millennials among the metros analyzed with 27.3% of its total population — or 673,000 residents — belonging to this cohort. Moreover, the Millennial influx to Austin is ongoing as the demographic has seen significant recent growth of 15.9% between 2018 to 2022.

Austin is a prime destination for Millennials seeking a balanced lifestyle between income and living expenses. With average Millennial salaries around $131,000 — among the highest in the top 10 — Austin offers competitive wages while maintaining affordability with a cost-of-living index at 98.9% of the national average. What’s more, recent pro-housing land use reforms further bolstered the metro’s relative affordability. The city also hosts the third-largest concentration of highly educated Millennials, who benefit from its renowned educational institutions and thriving tech industry’s demand for skilled talent.

2 – San Jose, Calif.

In the runner-up spot, San Jose occupied three of the leading spots in the individual categories in the study thanks to its robust professional prospects and associated benefits. As has been the case for some time, Millennials in the Silicon Valley metro enjoyed the highest annual wages in the country with median earnings around $234,000 per year. That’s about $33,000 more than their peers in San Francisco and almost double the Millennial incomes in Austin. These impressive earnings underscore San Jose’s appeal to the members of this age cohort who have the opportunity to pursue higher rungs of the ladder.

Beyond high wages, San Jose also boasted the most educated Millennial population overall with 63.9% holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, the age cohort is supported by the highest share of employer-based health insurance at 78.7%. Of course, as you might expect, living expenses in San Jose are also among the highest in the study — about 15% above the national average. As such, San Jose remains a promising Millennial haven for those among the cohort with the necessary skills and opportunities for a high-paying job in order to compensate for the metro’s equally high expenses.

3 – Raleigh, N.C.

On the opposite side of the country, Raleigh, N.C., set itself apart among the top metros for Millennials due to its well-rounded performance across multiple categories. In this case, Raleigh cracked the top half in four different categories, thereby demonstrating its wide appeal. Its best finish was for the share of Millennials holding a bachelor’s degree. The city ranked just behind San Jose, San Francisco and Austin in this category, which is perhaps to be expected given the area’s rich density of top universities.

In terms of earnings, Raleigh’s average of around $120,000 per year was among the highest in the top 20 metros. This is particularly notable considering that the cost of living in the Raleigh area is below the national average. This combination of high earnings and affordability (similar to Austin) makes Raleigh an attractive destination for Millennials. Accordingly, Raleigh’s Millennial population has grown by 7.9%, placing it in the top half of the top 20 for Millennial growth.

4 – Harrisburg-Carlisle, Penn.

The highest-ranking Northeastern metro area on the list, Harrisburg-Carlisle in Pennsylvania saw its most notable performance come from its significant increase in the share of Millennials within the area’s total population. Specifically, the Millennial population in Harrisburg-Carlisle climbed by 13.6% between 2018 and 2022 by adding 16,200 new residents from the generational cohort — the second-highest percentage increase in the top 20.

Not only was it top in the Northeast, but Harrisburg-Carlisle was also the highest-ranked mid-sized metro (population less than 1 million). Therefore, it’s clearly a popular choice for Millennials seeking an escape from the high costs and frenzy of larger gateway cities, while still offering proximity and easy access to major hubs across the East Coast. At the same time, the metro boasted 73.5% of Millennials covered by employer-sponsored health insurance to rank fourth-highest nationally.

5 – Huntsville, Ala.

Returning to the South, Huntsville, Ala., stood out as the third and final city in the top 20 to experience a double-digit increase (10%) in Millennial population share. The city’s thriving job market, which boasted a low unemployment rate of 2.6% (third-lowest among major cities), coupled with its affordable living costs (fourth-lowest), makes it an attractive destination for Millennials.

What’s more, the local economy has been undergoing a significant transformation with a budding technology sector joining longer-standing industries, like aerospace and defense. This shift has made Huntsville a regional hotspot for tech employment as it was recently recognized as one of the fastest-growing metros for tech jobs in the region. And, with a solid base of employment options, Huntsville presents an appealing option for Millennials with the credentials to meet the demands of these growing fields. As a result, its current 41.2% share of Millennials with a bachelor’s degree are well-positioned moving forward.

6 – Ogden-Clearfield, Utah

Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, is an increasingly attractive mid-sized metro area for Millennials with the share of residents in this age group jumping by 8.7%. This demographic shift is supported by a robust job market that’s reflected in its relatively low unemployment rate of 2.7%, placing it favorably within the top 20 metro areas. Plus, the region’s appeal is further enhanced by its cost-of-living index of 94.2, making it one of the most affordable metro areas in the Western U.S. at 5.8% below the national average.

As part of the Silicon Slopes and the first of two Utah entries in the overall top 10, the state has been ticking an important box for the generational cohort as of late. In fact, recent data from the Census Bureau indicated that Utah led the nation in the growth of new housing units with an increase of 2.5% between July 2022 and July 2023. At the metro level, Ogden-Clearfield was one of the more attractive locations not only in the state, but also in the entire nation. Furthermore, with median Millennial household incomes of just more than $100,000 and a unique lifestyle

7 – Seattle

In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle was right on the heels of Ogden-Clearfield in points with less than one point separating the two metros. Here, Seattle’s Millennial population share has increased by 5.5%, earning it the third-largest share of Millennials among U.S. metro areas with this cohort comprising 26.7% of the metro’s total population.

At the same time, 74.1% of Millennials in Seattle were covered by employer-based health insurance. Not only was that the third-highest share in the country, but it is especially beneficial given the metro’s high health care costs. However, the cost of living in Seattle is a significant consideration. To that end, the metro’s regional price parity is only lower than that of San Francisco and San Jose. Combined with a higher unemployment rate, the cost of living could be a barrier for those considering a move to Seattle.

8 – Salt Lake City

The second Utah entry in the top 20, Salt Lake City is another Western metro area with a strong Millennial presence: Recent data showed that Millennials made up 25.4% of the Salt Lake City metro population to rank fourth for this demographic. Likewise, health care access here is strong with Salt Lake City tying for fifth place among the top 20 cities for Millennial health insurance coverage at 73.5%.

Economically, Salt Lake City boasts significant advantages. For instance, median yearly incomes for Millennial households were approximately $115,000, which is considerably higher than those in the nearby Ogden-Clearfield metro area. Additionally, living costs and the unemployment rate remained favorable in this metro. Specifically, Salt Lake City was within the more affordable half of the top 20 with a regional price parity index of 95.7 — 4.3% below the national average — and an unemployment rate of 2.9%.

9 – Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas (NWA) (or the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area) boasted the lowest cost of living among the top 20 best metros for Millennials with a regional price parity index of just 90.7. And, median yearly incomes for Millennial household incomes averaged $102,406, making the area highly attractive for those seeking affordable living without compromising on earning potential.

Essentially a cluster of 31 small to mid-sized towns, northwest Arkansas’ economy throughout the last 20 years has been largely driven by the presence of Walmart’s headquarters and its associated businesses. Yet, more recently, the local tech scene has fostered a tech-savvy and entrepreneurial environment. Consequently, Millennials in NWA find themselves in a robust job market with diverse professional opportunities

10 – Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines stood out for its exceptional affordability, ranking as the second-most affordable metro in the top 20 after Fayetteville with living costs at 92.1% of the national average. The Iowa metro also excelled in other categories with overall top 10 rankings in average Millennial household income and unemployment rate.

It’s worth noting here that Des Moines also had the highest share of Millennials among mid-sized metros with the age cohort accounting for 24.4% of its total population, although this demographic share has declined by 6% recently.

Regional Rankings: Top Metros for Millennials Across the South, West, Midwest, & Northeast

Along with the overall ranking, this year’s edition of our top metros for Millennials study also presents the best locations for the age cohort within each region. Below, we delve into the top 10 metros in each region based on their national ranking scores by highlighting the unique features of each metro and any relevant regional comparisons.

Southern U.S.: Austin & Raleigh Hit Sweet Spot Between Income & Living Costs

The top 10 Southern U.S. metros for Millennials demonstrate the region’s broad appeal with each metro representing a different state (or multiple states), such as the Washington, D.C. area (greater Washington) and Charlotte, N.C.

First, Austin topped the rankings in three key metrics, emphasizing its strong performance across the board. Next, the D.C. area secured top spots in two categories to showcase its diverse attractions. Additionally, Fayetteville and Nashville each claimed one top spot, reflecting their unique strengths.

Although it missed the top 10 overall by a narrow margin, Nashville, Tenn., was notable for recording the second-lowest unemployment rate (2.4%) across the entire study. The job market in this metro area is driven by a growing tech sector and a thriving tourism industry, which provides diverse employment opportunities for Millennials. And, with the third-lowest living costs in the regional top 10, as well as a Millennial population share of 23.7% (second only to Austin in the South), Nashville remains a top contender for Millennials.

Shifting to the Washington, D.C. area, we encountered a tale of contrasts. On the one hand, D.C. led the region with impressive Millennial household incomes averaging $143,240 per year, coupled with the highest share of bachelor’s-degree holders. On the other hand, the National Capital Region also had the highest living costs among the regional top 10 and experienced a slight dip in its Millennial population share, which prevented it from climbing higher in the rankings.

Heading a bit further south, Richmond, Va., presented a compelling alternative to D.C. with living costs 2.3% below the national average. Additionally, Richmond claimed the region’s third-lowest unemployment rate and the fourth-highest percentage of college-educated Millennials among its peers. Moreover, Richmond’s average Millennial income slightly surpassed $100,000, distinguishing it from the usual high-income pattern observed in other Southern metros with extensive talent pools.

Down in the Carolinas, Raleigh, N.C., was joined by Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C., as top Southern destinations for Millennials. Namely, Charleston ranked 16th overall and was the final Southern metro to make the top 20. It boasted the third-highest Millennial population share — tied with Raleigh and the D.C. area — and has seen 6% growth in this generational cohort. Meanwhile, Charlotte distinguished itself with affordability by featuring lower living costs and an average Millennial income of $107,000 per year, which was $4,000 more than Charleston’s.

Last, but not least, Atlanta — the largest metro in the South’s top 10 — has experienced a significant 6.3% rise in its Millennial population share. Combined with competitive Millennial household incomes (second only to D.C., Austin and Raleigh), Atlanta emerged as a compelling destination for this cohort.

Western U.S.: Where Millennials Enjoy Highest Pay & Strong Peer Presence

The top metros for Millennials in the Western U.S. were spread across seven states. Utah led the pack with three top entries, including Ogden-Clearfield and Salt Lake City, which made it into the nationwide top 10. Other key areas included Colorado, the Pacific Northwest and California’s Bay Area.

The West’s entries were among the highest-rated nationally with four of them cracking the top 10 for best Millennial metros overall. In addition to these, Denver and San Francisco reached #17 and #18 on the list, respectively, to stand out as promising destinations for Millennial relocations.

In particular, Denver stood out with the highest proportion of Millennials in the region, as well as the second-highest in the entire study at 27.1% of its population. The Colorado metro also ranked high in educational attainment with a substantial portion of Millennials holding bachelor’s degrees. While Denver’s Millennials earned a respectable average income of $127,000 per year, they also faced a cost of living that was 7.4% above the national average.

In California, San Francisco nearly rivaled its tech-heavy neighbor, San Jose, in terms of Millennial income and educational attainment. With the second-highest Millennial salaries in the study — exceeding $200,000, on average — and the third-highest share of college-educated Millennials, San Francisco offers a high-earning lifestyle. But, this comes at a cost: Living expenses here are nearly 18% above the national average.

Meanwhile, in Utah, the Provo-Orem metro area in the Silicon Slopes offers an appealing combination of low unemployment rates and exceptional affordability with living costs 5.2% below the national average. Provo-Orem also outshined its peers in Millennial earnings by boasting a median income of $116,000. And, the metro’s educational attainment is impressive, as well, with 46.6% of Millennials holding a bachelor’s degree.

Looking to the Northwest, Boise, Idaho, has emerged as a popular Millennial destination, leading the regional top 10 with a 9.3% increase in the Millennial share of its local population. The “Treasure Valley” metro area also offered the lowest living cost within the regional top 10 (tied with Ogden-Clearfield) at 94.2% of the national average. Heading toward the coast, Portland, Ore., boasted average Millennial incomes of $123,000 per year (just $4,000 below Denver), and had a 24.7% share of Millennials to rank eighth overall in the entire study.


Midwestern U.S.: Des Moines, Kansas City, & Grand Rapids Headline Top Spots

Alongside Des Moines, four additional Midwestern locations made the overall top 20 — Kansas City, Mo.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis. Notably, eight states were represented among these top Midwestern cities, which showcases a broad distribution of opportunities for Millennials across the region.

Distinctly, several metropolitan areas in the region stood out nationally for their high percentages of Millennials with employer-provided health insurance. Of course, as Millennials progress through their careers, the significance of health benefits is increasingly recognized.

Grand Rapids, Mich., stood out in the Midwest for offering Millennials top-notch benefits and a strong talent pool. Here, a considerable 74.9% of Millennials had employer-based health coverage, which was second only to San Jose nationwide. Additionally, 44% of Millennials in the metro held a bachelor’s degree — the second-highest share within the regional top 10. Grand Rapids also recorded an affordable cost of living at 94.2% of the national average.

A key observation from the top Midwest metros was that affordability was a significant advantage for Millennials residing in the heartland. For example, Wichita, Kan., claimed the title of the most budget-friendly option in the Midwest top 10 with living costs 10.8% below the national average. Nearby, Kansas City, Mo., offered similar cost advantages and impressive Millennial benefits, including a high percentage of employer-based health insurance coverage (72.2%) and a 4.4% increase in its Millennial population. Although Kansas City didn’t quite crack the national top 10, it nevertheless stood out as a strong contender, ranking second in the Midwest behind Des Moines and tying for 11th overall in the national ranking.

Next, Omaha, Neb., maintained its reputation as a business hub with the region’s lowest unemployment rate (tied with Des Moines) at 2.8%. And, despite a 9.3% decline in its Millennial population, Omaha still retained a sizable portion of Millennials with 23.4% of its residents being in this age group — the third-highest share in the region.

In contrast, there was significant growth in the Millennial population in Indianapolis with a 5.2% increase — the highest in the regional top 10. Across the state line, Columbus, Ohio, held the second-highest share of Millennials among its population after growing steadily at 3.3%.


Northeastern U.S.: Boston Excels in Talent; Pittsburgh Offers Affordability; Bridgeport, Conn., Tops Earnings

The Northeast provides numerous benefits for Millennials, from the talent pool and higher incomes in coastal metros like Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Portland, Maine, to the affordability of inland metros, like Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y.

In the Northeast, Harrisburg-Carlisle, Penn., led overall, but Boston shined in three key categories: With the highest educational attainment (59.1% of Millennials holding a bachelor’s degree), the largest Millennial population share and the lowest unemployment rate in the Northeast top 10 (2.5%), Boston presented an attractive package. However, its higher cost of living — 12% above the national average — and a recent decline in Millennial population growth limited its ascent to the top.

Further up the coast in Maine, the Portland metro was a well-rounded contender, ranking 13th nationally and within the top three for five metrics in the Northeast. More precisely, Portland impressed with second-place finishes in Millennial population growth (9%), employer-based health insurance coverage (72.6%) and a low unemployment rate (2.6%). Additionally, Portland secured the third spot in the regional top 10 for the share of Millennials with a bachelor’s degree, suggesting an influx of talented young professionals in recent years.

Otherwise, for those seeking top salaries, the Bridgeport, Conn., (Stamford-Bridgeport-Norwalk) metro is the place to be. That’s because Bridgeport boasted the third-highest average household income for Millennials nationwide at $172,000 annually, only surpassed by San Jose and San Francisco. This financial strength was complemented by Bridgeport’s educational prowess with the second-highest share of Millennials holding bachelor’s degrees in the Northeast.

Inland, the Lancaster, Pa., metro saw the region’s third-highest Millennial population growth (6.1%) and noted a cost of living not far behind Harrisburg-Carlisle. Although Lancaster offered slightly higher Millennial incomes and a lower unemployment rate, it fell behind the state capital in educational attainment and employer-based health insurance.

Lastly, Pittsburgh presented a compelling option for budget-conscious Millennials. Tying in overall points with Boston as one of the Northeast’s best metros for Millennials, Pittsburgh offered the region’s lowest cost of living in the regional top 10 (shared with Buffalo, N.Y.), alongside promising career opportunities.

Explore all 105 metropolitan areas in detail in this chart, which displays comprehensive rankings for every metro area with a population of at least 500,000 included in the study. Use the search bar in the top left corner to find a specific metro or navigate to additional pages using the arrow in the top right corner to see rankings beyond the top 20.


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