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March 3, 2017

After finally wooing millennials, Washington cannot hold them

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Published: March 2, 2017
Millennials have been flocking to Washington for nearly a decade, lured by the promise of plentiful jobs and high wages in the aftermath of the Great Recession.But will they stay? Researchers say it’s doubtful.

“The high cost of living, horrendous traffic and high crime levels may cause millennials to have second thoughts about staying in the D.C. region,” according to a new report by American University’s Kogod School of Business. “Only 9 percent say they will definitely not leave in the next five years.”

Two-thirds of Washington’s 20- and 30-somethings said they would consider moving out of the area for the right job. Arlington residents were most likely to leave town, with 78 percent saying they weren’t particularly wedded to the area.

“A demographic tsunami is upon us,” said Stephen Fuller, an economist and professor of public policy at George Mason University. “There are already signs that millennials are moving out as fast as they’re moving in. They’ve come here to get their tickets punched, to learn the trade, to get some experience — and now that they have that, they’re not so keen on sticking around.”

For now, though, the Washington area continues its reign as the second-most desirable U.S. locale for millennials, behind San Francisco and ahead of Boston, New York and Denver. Researchers surveyed 504 adults on 33 factors, including job availability, salary levels, housing and child-care costs.

“We hear a lot about millennials as though they’re mythological creatures from another planet — a planet with beanbag chairs and foosball tables in every office,” said Dawn Leijon, executive-in-residence at the Kogod School of Business and the report’s lead researcher. “But they have the same working-stiff concerns that previous generations did: Are there enough jobs? Can they make enough money to pay the bills?”

And, she added, they’re increasingly finding it difficult — and expensive — to put down roots in the Washington region. Even with an average salary of $65,910 — a 39 percent premium on the national average of $48,320, only 12 percent of millennials said they felt they could afford to buy a house in the area, according to the second annual Kogod Greater Washington Millennial Index.

“The high cost of living makes it very, very difficult to save money towards retirement,” one survey respondent said. “Many people are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Traffic was another source of frustration. The Washington area has the second-worse commute, behind New York, according to Leijon. It turns out, for all of the talk of public transportation, ride-sharing and cycling, 60 percent of Washington’s millennials drive themselves to work each day. Many — 57 percent of those surveyed — said they could commute using Metro, but chose not to do so because it is unreliable and inefficient.

“Traffic is horrendous,” Leijon said, adding that 32 percent of survey respondents said congested roads were the worst part of living in the area. “About one-third of millennials said their commute is ‘killing’ them.”

The Washington region should work to retain its concentration of 20- and 30-somethings, Leijon said. By 2020, millennials will make up half of the U.S. workforce, making it especially important for the region to be able to attract — and keep — well-
educated workers.

In practice, many millennials said that means having employers who match their contributions to 401(k) plans and subsidize their health insurance. They also said they would like a paid, two-month sabbatical after five years of employment and the option to telecommute at least one day a week.

“Washington has traditionally been all about workaholics,” Fuller said. “But millennials don’t want that — they want work-life balance, and it is essential that companies pay attention.”

American University’s Kogod School of Business Greater Washington Index 2017 Millennials

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