Boston’s young adults plentiful, influential — and often burdened
City adapts to assist its largest age group
They grew up here or moved here, for work or for school. They have stayed, shaping how the Boston area works, plays, and operates.
Today, Boston is home to the largest proportion of young adults of any major US city, passing famously young cities such as Austin and Washington. People age 20 to 34 make up more than a third of Boston’s population, with even higher percentages in Cambridge (44.5) and Somerville (44).
Not only is one of America’s oldest cities now decidedly young, but the new generation is exercising its influence.
Young adults make up about 45 percent of eligible voters and nearly half the city’s workforce. They are an economic engine, adding $1 billion annually in goods and services to Boston. That’s according to the city’s ONEin3 initiative, which, according to its website, aims to connect Boston’s young adult population with resources related to housing, professional development, financial health, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement.
And they are shaping their neighborhoods, promoting enterprises such as Zipcar and Hubway, attracting companies through entrepreneurship and innovation, and advocating for an arts and late-night entertainment scene. The T now runs later on weekends; free wireless Internet is expanding.
While such efforts are not specific to Boston, the rate of demographic change outpaces other “young” cities.
Boston’s 20- to 34-year-old population increased by 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared with New York’s 3.9 percent increase and San Francisco’s 3.3 percent decline, according to the US Census.
“The city is trying harder to speak to the younger generation, and make things better for them,” said Neda Talebzadeh, 26, a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate who moved to Somerville.
Boston tops list of young adult destinations
Top 10 major cities by percentage of population between 20 and 34 years old
|City||Total population||20 to 34 year olds||Percent of total population|
Like their peers across the country, members of Greater Boston’s millennial population face crippling student debt, a slowly recovering job market, and mounting expenses. But with a greater proportion of residents facing these problems than any other US city, Boston feels an exponential weight of these burdens.
This means more people here face daily sacrifices and decisions: shoebox apartments shared with roommates long into adulthood, long commutes or delayed car ownership, and in some cases, underemployment.
Pew Research Center studies have found today’s young adults to be less likely to get married than their predecessors; when they do, it tends to be later in life. In Boston, 83 percent of 20- to 34-year-olds are unmarried.
Kristin Mattera, 31, calls her Boston-area lifestyle “stunted adulthood.”
“In the city, everything happens later,” she said.
Boston’s workforce youngest of major US cities
Greater Boston welcomes nearly 400,000 students from around the world each year, according to the US Census. About 37 percent of Boston’s young adult population is enrolled in school, according to the ONEin3 initiative.
But the area has traditionally struggled to retain them after graduation, said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.
That might be changing. More 25- to 34-year-olds work in Boston than any other age group, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The unemployment rate for this age group is 7.4 percent, significantly lower than the citywide rate of 9.6 percent.
But some residents say jobs remain elusive.
“If you want to land a decent job, you’re going to have to pound the pavement every single day,” said Luke Stankowski, 30, who works in financial services and lives in Brighton. “Even then, it doesn’t always work out. You’ll have to settle for something below what you were expecting.”
In recent years, technology companies, including Google and Facebook, have opened offices in the Boston area to tap the local talent pool. Others, such as RunKeeper and Care.com, were created by regional entrepreneurs.
That, in part, has led to Boston’s number two ranking in the country for technology employment in a report by commercial real estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle; the area has more than 145,000 tech jobs. Since 2013, the industry has seen a 4.3 percent jump in the number of positions.
Technology startups disproportionately employ young workers and are drawn to locations with denser populations of young adults, according to a study on their hiring practices at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Scrambling to make it work in Greater Boston
Young adults in the Boston metropolitan area have one of the highest median salaries for this generation — $50,400, according to Payscale — but that benefit is dwarfed by the area’s rising cost of living.
“Over my seven years here, I can definitely say that rents have gone up,” Stankowski said. “It’s either you move, or you take a $50 or $100 increase here and there. My friends’ rent got increased by $250 one year. It’s definitely not cost-of-living adjustments.”
In August, Zillow.com estimated that the monthly rent across all apartments in the city was nearly $2,500. Three years prior, it was just over $2,000 a month. Increasing prices disproportionately affect young Bostonians, 60 percent of whom rent, according to the BRA.
“I pay a good amount of money even in Medford, which was unexpected,” said Jonathan Talit, 22. “I work for this company at the wharf and see a ton of new construction and developments going there. It seems like a lot of places are being built, but prices aren’t going down. In fact, they are going up.”
When Mattera graduated from Northeastern University eight years ago, she had two options: move home to Connecticut or stay in Boston and try to make it work.
Mattera chose the latter.
She worked at Starbucks for a while. She took jobs from temporary staffing agencies. She got laid off twice.
“I’ve been in the same apartment for seven years and had that many jobs,” Mattera said.
She does what she can to not just get by, but to move forward. She shops at Market Basket, where she says she saves on food. She lives in Medford, where she saves on rent. She’s postponed thinking of homeownership or having a family, focusing instead on paying off her student loans.
“I’ve thought about going home, but I also know there would be so many less things to do there,” Mattera said. “We’re stacked on top of each other here, but I’d rather have the access to the city.”
This is Generation Boston.
About Generation Boston
In this BostonGlobe.com series, we look at Greater Boston’s increasingly influential young adult population — “Generation Boston” — and its challenges, concerns, and contributions. Hear from them about their experiences.