PHILADELPHIA -- Larry Eichel and anyone walking Center City, West Philadelphia and other neighborhoods the past decade could see the change: Streets bustling with young people.
In 2013, Eichel saw the trend of a rising young population clearly in the data.
Eichel, who is the director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia research initiative, looked at the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and found that between 2006 and 2012, the share of 20-34-year-olds in Philadelphia's overall city population had increased by 6.1 percentage points.
That increase inspired Eichel to issue a report about a year later called Millennials in Philadelphia. The January 2014 report made an immediate impact, Eichel said. It became widely cited in local media and by city government, publicizing a positive population trend for the city.
“We just heard the numbers and the phrases of that report being used by public officials, chambers of commerce, the media,” he said. “The report really crystalized what was happening in the city and that’s why it resonated.”
The report was a spinoff of one that Pew produces every year on the state of the city of Philadelphia, which also relies on data from the Census Bureau, as well as Pew’s own polling data, and other local and federal statistical sources.
The uptick in the city’s millennial population in 2006 coincided with another turning point for Philadelphia. That year, the city’s population fell to its lowest level since 1900 but then began to reverse course upward, and Eichel says that millennials were a major reason for that rebound.
“According to Census estimates, the population grew by nearly 59,000 in the next six years, reaching 1,547,607 as of July 1, 2012,” Eichel wrote. “During that same period, the share of Philadelphians in the 20-to-34 age group rose from 20 percent to 26 percent of the total. This change indicates that about 100,000 more young adults lived in the city in 2012 than lived there just six years earlier.”
While Census Bureau statistics were used to confirm a recent trend, Pew relied on its own polling and focus groups to examine what millennials might do next. A 2013 poll of Philadelphia millennials included in the report showed that the cohort is evenly split between those who plan to stay in the city and those who plan to leave it. The poll found that 19 percent of millennials said they would definitely stay in the city in the next five to 10 years and 31 percent said they would probably stay. However, 21 percent said they definitely would not stay and 29 percent said they probably would not stay. Pew repeated the polling in 2015 and 2016, with similar results.
In their responses, those polled cited jobs, concern about the city’s public schools and crime/public safety as their top three reasons they would leave. While heralding the turnaround in the city’s population and demographics, the report left clear that the future was not as certain.
In the halls of city government, the message was evidently heard. In August of 2016, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the formation of a Millennial Advisory Committee (MAC) and welcomed applicants to serve as one of its 21 volunteers.
Dr. Brandi Baldwin-Rana was one of 400 applicants selected to serve on the committee. Baldwin-Rana, 34, is the founder and CEO of Millennial Ventures, a consulting company in Center City that focuses on engaging young professionals in the workforce and recruiting them in the first place.
Millennial Ventures is part of a shared workspace called CultureWorks. This co-working environment features an open industrial space with communal tables and light aluminum swivel chairs. Punctuating the transparent design are enclosed meeting spaces with tall glass doors bordering the office’s vast open center. Young people convene at a comfortable lounge just beyond the reception area. A large retro clock reads “Bulova Watch Time,” harkening back to the watchmaker that became a global name in the 1920s, the same decade that The Philadelphia Building, where Millennial Ventures resides, was built.
Baldwin-Rana is the only business owner on the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee.
As an entrepreneur who creates strategies for companies to attract and retain younger workers, Baldwin-Rana is using those insights to help the city do the same. Young people have long been drawn to the city for its quality higher education institutions but Baldwin-Rana asserts that universities are not enough to keep them here. In many cases, and as the Pew poll corroborated, a vibrant economic and employment scene in the city has to be another key component in making Philadelphia an attractive longer-term home for young people.
“Younger millennials are probably going to get a bachelor’s then they’re ready to get to work," Baldwin-Rana said. "Employers are willing to pay these young workers to come right in."
Ensuring economic opportunities is just one of the items that MAC members have on their agenda. The committee has determined that neighborhood beautification plays a role in attracting millennials. That means the MAC is taking on projects to address derelict buildings and less attractive streets. Affordable housing and equal access to education are another part of the discussions.
When Baldwin-Rana joined the MAC, one of the first resources the committee received was Pew’s 2014 Millennials in Philadelphia report, demonstrating three years after its publication, it was still leaving an imprint on the city.
For Baldwin-Rana, one of the report’s greatest takeaways was the diversity — both socioeconomic and demographic — among Philadelphia’s millennials.
By using Census Bureau migration data from the American Community Survey, the Pew report also showed that in 2012 nearly two-thirds of Philadelphia’s newly arrived residents were between the ages of 18 and 34.
Census Bureau data used in the Pew report also showed that while African-Americans were Philadelphia’s largest racial group at 42 percent among 20-34 year olds, they constituted 35 percent of the population. That same year, non-Hispanic whites were 36 percent of the city’s population but 40 percent of the millennial 20- to 34-year-old population.
“The Pew report really helped us to understand that not all millennials are created equal so we really needed to dig behind the layers and get a sense for their specific demographics,” Baldwin-Rana said. “A lot of people just like myself are coming from other cities for higher education opportunities. The mayor is trying to figure out how to get more of us to stay, but there are also the native Philadelphians who are often very different from the millennials who come here for college. So part of our goal is to figure out how to address the needs of both groups.”
Nesreen Khashan is a data dissemination specialist at the Census Bureau.