Millennials Flocking to Milwaukee
Data shows Milwaukee ranks second in the Midwest in attracting millennials.
Much of Milwaukee’s growth in recent years can be attributed to an influx of Millennials according to a new study by real estate tracking firm Apartment List. Since 2005, Milwaukee ranks 11th in the nation and second in the Midwest in the influx of millennials among the 50 largest metro areas. The population of 18 to 35 year-olds, adjusting for the change in the young adult population nationwide, has grown 8.8 percent in Milwaukee in the past eleven years. Of the cities with a faster growing millennial population than Milwaukee, only Omaha is in the Midwest and none of the other cities are historic manufacturing hubs. Could Milwaukee finally be moving on from the Rust Belt?
Beyond walkability, what’s drawing millennials to Milwaukee? According to the report, “Apartment List’s renter surveys consistently show that local career opportunities are one of the most important factors to millennials.” And while Apartment List found a strong correlation between the growth of millennial population and median income, Milwaukee bucks the trend and actually saw its median income decline by 2.3 percent since 2005. Milwaukee is not alone in this regard, Minneapolis, Columbus and Kansas City also all had declines in median income and still experienced millennial growth, but they had both smaller income declines and smaller population increases. This metric — income growth — is something that clearly should be watched going forward as a potential leading factor in slowing Milwaukee’s building boom.
Homeownership Rates in Milwaukee are Still Weird
The Milwaukee area’s homeownership rate continues to be a real outlier when ranked as part of the 75 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country. While the ownership rate climbed nearly two percentage points from 2014 to 2015, the only areas with lower rates of homeownership continue to be Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego and San Jose. Not a list of cities Milwaukee often finds itself compared against.
Milwaukee’s millennials don’t seemed poised to turn the tide. Nationwide millennial home ownership fell 7.4 percent to 32 percent from 2005 to 2015, and in Milwaukee the decrease was even more pronounced, dropping 9.3 percent. Anecdotally my housing search confirms much of the research. I am one of those millennials that prefers walkability and I’m into year two of a housing search for the right home in the city’s most walkable neighborhoods. In the meantime I continue to maintain my position among my ever growing list of Milwaukee peers, a renter in an apartment building with a high Walk Score.
My colleague Bruce Murphy previously examined the possible underlying causes of low homeownership rates in his column “Milwaukee, the Land of Duplexes.” And no discussion of homeownership in Milwaukee can be considered complete without also considering the long-term effects of the Great Recession on the city. Harvard professor Matthew Desmond chronicled the myriad housing issues afflicting Milwaukee’s impoverished residents in his recently released best-seller Evicted.
Who’s Renting All Those Apartments?
To paraphrase James Carville “it’s the millennials stupid.” Earlier this year I reported that occupancy rates of apartments were near historic highs, and this latest reports suggests a clearer picture of who’s actually renting the apartments. There are more millennials in the Milwaukee area, they prefer walkable housing and they’re buying fewer homes than the generation before them.
About the Data
The data is compiled as part of the four-county, Milwaukee metropolitan statistical area, which includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties. For those that love a good spreadsheet, the Census Bureau makes all of the data publicly available.