Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Millennials Flocking to Milwaukee

Data shows Milwaukee ranks second in the Midwest in attracting millennials.

By - Nov 22nd, 2016 02:09 pm
Walkable Milwaukee

Walkable Milwaukee

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?

Apartment List notes in their report that “many have suggested that millennials favor walkable cities that provide easy access to amenities and recreation (San Francisco or DC, for example), but the metropolitan areas with the fastest growth tended to be on the interior.” If millennials do truly favor walkable cities, Milwaukeean’s growth is no surprise. As I’ve previously reported according to the Census Bureau’s population-weighted density measurement, Milwaukee ranks 14th in the nation in density, a strong predictor of walkability. Yes, Milwaukee is smaller than say Portland or Seattle, but it’s also substantially more dense. Milwaukee also boasts an impressive amount of big league city amenities for a region of under two million people, including multiple professional sports teams, a world class symphony, great art museum and other arts groups and a still-high number of Fortune 500 headquarters. If millennials prefer walkable environments they don’t have to look much further than Milwaukee for a mix of affordability and walkability.

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.

Building Boom

27 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Millennials Flocking to Milwaukee”

  1. Stinky says:

    Regarding homeownership, I think Strong Towns has a good explanation: the prices are inflated (

    Home prices in the dense and desirable areas have increased to a point where they’re expensive but not nice places to live. By “not nice”, I mean they’re 100 years old, have problems related to archaic construction (like lead), haven’t been updated in decades, etc. The cost to update these homes to contemporary standards would put them way at the top of the market. That gap won’t be closed unless prices fall or a lot of luxury buyers show up.

  2. Virginia Small says:

    Interesting story, Jeramey.

    While a high rate of millenials renting apartments in walkable neighborhoods is good, it also raises other issues.

    What are likely trends as people “age-out” of rentals? Will they be able to buy suitable and affordable housing to stay in the city if they want to? Does Milwaukee offer sufficient quality-of-life infrastructure to serve these millennials and other generations as they move along in life? Numerous people have been bringing up the issue of public schools. Some growing-density areas are not served by nearby schools. Adequate public spaces, both in number and quality, is also a factor.

    Madison is currently wrestling with the need for more parks downtown to serve a growing percentage of apartment dwellers who lack backyards. For any city, and certainly for Milwaukee, that includes neighborhood parks. We’ve got some great regional parks but some neighborhoods lack sufficient high-quality public spaces. How will that shake out?

    The Milwaukee United coalition is considering some of these issues, which should help.

  3. Jerry says:

    cosmopolitan, sophisticated, up-scale, well-educated, attractive, healthy, open-minded, modern, well-traveled, vibrant, accessible, exciting.

    The above adjectives more closely describe which city and its inhabitants?:

    1) Milwaukee
    2) Minneapolis

    The following adjectives more closely describe which of the above cities and its inhabitants?:

    narrow-minded, racist, backwards, poorly-educated, unsophisticated, overweight, unattractive, old, crumbling, out-dated, dull, behind-the-times.

    It sounds like Milwaukee is moving in the right direction, but remains 15-20 years behind Minneapolis.

  4. David says:

    Wow Jerry….. what grade are you in?

  5. Mohammed says:

    Wow, Jerry. What on earth was the point of your post other than to basically talk sh*t? Perhaps instead of going on Urban Milwaukee, you can post love letters to the MPLS on the Star Tribune?

    I’ve lived in BOTH Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a great place, there’s no denying that. They’ve done a GREAT job attracting top talent and becoming more progressive and more urban. That said – Milwaukee has made the Fittest Cities list several times on Men’s Health, has one of the largest Lesbian populations by percentage in the country, and certainly has plenty of open-minded, progressive folks. Have you even been here? The amount of redevelopment is outstanding – and Milwaukee is slowly but surely changing for the better.

    I cannot understand where Minnesotan’s smug sense of superiority comes from. Great, you live in a state that has less people, less diversity – the only difference is how open YOU think you are. Being a person of color, I experienced far more covert racism and whitesplaining than I ever have in Milwaukee. Minnesotans absolutely crumble when you burst their “but I’m so progressive” bubble, because they are completely unaware how they come across to outsiders. Milwaukee is highly segregated, but that’s largely because Minneapolis was almost 90% white until 1980 and had a fundamentally different development pattern.

  6. Virginia Small says:

    Jerry, Perhaps the adjectives that most characterizes Minneapolis (and Minnesota in general) are inclusive and equitable. It’s not that everyone is “sophisticated” or every neighborhood is “up-scale.” But they actively work on trying to ensure that every part of the greater metro area is livable–with decent housing and access to mass transit, parks and other basics and amenities.

    They’ve attracted many immigrants from all over and translate public websites into 15 languages.

    I worry that Milwaukee leaders want to cater mostly to only certain demographics.

  7. David says:

    Virginia….. I know Milwaukee has attracted Hispanics and Hmong in recent years, but have city leaders actively tried attracting other groups? It seems to me, more immigrants is exactly what we need. I remember when then Mayor Norquist reached out to Central Americans, he was blasted in the press.

  8. Virginia Small says:

    David, I have not heard of any efforts.

    Yes, historian Joseph Rodriguez wrote in Bootstrap New Urban: Design, Race & Redevelopment in Milwaukee that much of Milwaukee’s repopulating in the recent decades has been immigrants settling here, including Hispanics and Hmong. He also contends that the mere presence of parks, even when not well-maintained, has helped attract city residents, including immigrants.

    Milwaukee can learn from what other cities are doing–including Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. Nonetheless, every city has its own dynamics and Milwaukee has many, many things to recommend it. There is terrific cultural, grass-roots and volunteerism energy here. Nonetheless, there are many challenges that need all hands on deck to address them adequately–for the good of all. And vision and leadership helps, from whatever quarter.

  9. Jerry says:

    @Mohammed – Milwaukee is ‘tooting its own horn’, when it’s really not in a position to do so. What’s going on now in the city should have happened 20 years ago, i.e. attracting young people of diverse backgrounds.

    I grew up in Minneapolis and moved to Milwaukee 16 years ago. Then and even now, young people were leaving Milwaukee after college for…Minneapolis and Chicago. I was recruited to move to Milwaukee and paid a generous “move package” to do so, I took some of that money as a down payment on a house in one of the most up-scale neighborhoods in Milwaukee (reminded me of Minneapolis) and have lived here ever since.

    Housing is very cheap in Milwaukee. Similar homes around the Lake Calhoun area, for example in Mpls are too expensive. I knew Milwaukee was a messed up city, when I was told by my new co-workers (all Milwaukeeans) where not to go in the city. Never experienced that in Mpls and freely went wherever I wanted to go, with no worries any time of day or night. It may have changed now.

    Milwaukee needs to attract young people from other parts of the country, who bring new ideas from where they grew up. It still has large numbers of young people LEAVING it for greener pastures, leaving behind a large population of people who were born in Milwaukee, went to school here, got a job here and continue with their same habits, racism being one of them.

    I cried everyday for two years after moving to Milwaukee from Mpls. Milwaukee has grown on me though and I think the lakefront, bike trails, and green areas are second to none. Milwaukee has strong points, but the people in this city have got to change.

    I currently work in Chicago and commute. My co-workers are exactly the describers that I used in my original post to about Mpls. Not even GE in Mke can offer this kind of co-worker population of diverse ideas, people and backgrounds.

    Milwaukee is very inbred (I’m not talking about DNA here) when it comes to social life, because new people from other parts of the country never move here.

    Places like Mpls, Portland, WA, Austin, TX etc. are what they are because they are a magnet for young, vibrant talent from all over the country. In contrast Milwaukee attracted factory people with factory education levels and mentalities. Now the factories are gone, but the same people remain, left behind. The city won’t change until these people die.

    Add inbred to the Mke list and “progressive” to the Mpls list. Thank you Mohammed.

  10. Someone needs to tell VP of Caterpillar Tom Bluth about this! His plan to move to Tucson, AZ was driven by it’s attraction to millennials. Apparently Milwaukee is just as, if not more attractive! Shows you what VP’s know! Anyway, he drove a bunch of people away from the company so they could stay in the Milwaukee area.

  11. Jerry says:

    @Virginia – “inclusive and equitable” Yes! Add those adjectives to the Mpls. list.

    What I still dislike the most about Milwaukee is the lack of the above and it doesn’t just have to do with skin color.

    Mpls has the highest % of readers in the nation.

    On my last visit, it was very pleasant to travel through all of the beautiful neighborhoods on the light rail transit to downtown.

  12. David says:

    You’re trying a little to hard Jerry. We all think Mpls is a nice town. Feel better?

  13. Virginia Small says:

    I’m from metro MKE but lived on the East Coast for over three decades (north and south). Milwaukee has much to recommend it and also many huge challenges. For those who live here it’s up to us to try to help improve it.

    As for progressive cities, Milwaukee (and Wisconsin) led the nation for ages on that front, with all the Socialist mayors and other practical visionaries. Some of that energy remains, even if some would like to crush that spirit in favor of privatizing and catering only to certain demographics. Many of the most interesting and inspiring success stories in MKE are not widely known.

  14. Jerry says:

    Virginia – I like your attitude, i.e. “For those who live here it’s up to us to try to help improve it.”

    We can only do that if we share our opinions, dislikes and likes. Real problems don’t get solved by people with a status-quo mentality. Thank you for your intelligent comments on this forum.

  15. Willam Teller says:

    The rest of the city that subsidises trolleys and other follies appreciates your socialistic idealism and looks forward to the new low income housing in the 3rd and 5th ward. Economic Diversity is important, right? Right?

  16. David says:

    William Teller…..?

  17. Elizabeth says:

    I think the interesting thing to watch will be when these apt dwelling millennials start having kids. I’ve always felt that was a unique thing about Milwaukee, there are very few children who grow up downtown. Your options for school are limited. To a previous posters point, parks are quite spread out compared to western/southern parts of the city.

  18. Walt says:

    Jerry – I live in Minnesota. You said you lived here 16 years ago, right? I just have a problem with one of your assier comments. “Milwaukee attracted factory people with factory education levels and mentalities.” Yet you lived in Minnesota the same time the state elected a professional wrestler as governor. Your pretentious attitude is very common here, I’m actually surprised it’s only been 16 years, maybe its been 12 years? Your attitude is why when my wife finishes her PhD in pharmacology we’ll be moving to Milwaukee. That’s if you haven’t ruined it for us before hand.

  19. Virginia Small says:

    Jerry, you’re welcome. And thanks to you and other posters for thoughtful comments.

  20. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    There is a moral question here? Should the city spend the money, time to fix the problems they have: crime, roads, bad schools or spend it on attracting another group of people?
    Milwaukee has made the choice and all around downtown, it is falling arrant.

  21. Mohammed says:

    I’m sorry that people in Milwaukee didn’t live up to your standards Jerry. Just as predicted, you whitesplained and dismissed my opinion (and experience) outright. I live in Chicago now and have a few fellow graduates of the U in my circle. One of my lady friends, a perfectly nice, WASPY type from the Lake of the Isles area was visibly upset when I mentioned the Twin Cities’ racism. She was offended that I could even think such as a thing, as if she were capable of harboring ignorant or bigoted thoughts. My other POC just laughed, because they all knew too. WI has produced total nut-jobs like Scott Walker. But MN has produced the likes of Michelle Bachman. When I went to the U, all I heard was how Wisconsin was an inferior state with inferior people, and yet 30%+ of UW’s enrollment comes from Minnesota. In Wisconsin, we don’t really care about MN except for the Packers – Vikings. In MN, this hatred borders on obsessive.

    I also worked in Southern MN and traveled through every corner of both WI and MN. Have you? In small town MN, being a bearded Muslim man of Tunisian ancestry wasn’t looked upon too kindly. It isn’t in WI either. My point is that your smug sense of superiority is completely misplaced and frankly arrogant. I’ve loved all the places I’ve lived (in the US and internationally), Milwaukee included. Milwaukee has a TON of problems, no one is saying otherwise. But I think Milwaukee deserves to be proud of what’s happened especially since the end of the great recession. I grew up in the bad old days of the late 80’s and 90’s, and I can tell you how far the city has come. Why not at least celebrate something, anything positive instead of crying about the city NOT being Minneapolis? I have a whole host of prescriptions I’d like to see to make for a better, more racially inclusive place. But I am encouraged by what I’ve seen.

  22. LuAnne Feik says:

    Did you see the entry about Milwaukee and water technologies in “Reinvigorating mature industries through global engagement” at The item was a little difficult to find. It was in The Avenue blog on November 30, 2016.

  23. Feel the Burn says:

    Minnesota has the cultural and historical value of a shopping mall. Oh wait, minny invented the shopping mall and it’s super proud of that….and its #1 tourist destination…another shopping mall!

  24. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    I grew up in Minnesota great state of Norwegians, Swedes, Germans and various others.
    Minneapolis is great place, as is most of Minnesota. Hard working people tending socialistic.
    Great that Milwaukee is getting Millienlails for a trolley and the Bucks but no ones trying to fix the big problems, Barrett and the white, liberal, male racists that run the city are incompetent.

  25. Vincent Hanna says:

    Most of liberal Minnesota is great? What makes Minneapolis so much better than Milwaukee? Isn’t Minneapolis run by Democrats?

  26. Casey says:

    WCD likes homogeneous societies.

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    That explains it Casey.

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