D.C. liv­ing may be too costly for mil­len­ni­als

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BY ABHA BHAT­TARAI abha.bhat­tarai@wash­post.com

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 20and 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 onethird 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 — welle­d­u­cated 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.”

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