Paradox? Study says area is cheap to live in but not attracting young

·3 min read

Sep. 20—Maybe the region needs a new ad campaign: Young people, move here, it's cheap.

A new review of data designed to look at where the cost of living is low and where young people are moving — with the notion that they may like to move where it's cheaper to start their new lives — found a bit of a paradox for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area.

It's pretty cheap to live here, about 8.5% below the national average cost of living. In theory, that should catch the attention of younger people under 30 looking for a place where they can stretch a buck a bit more. But preliminary data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows we're not luring them in.

"Out of all midsize U.S. Metros with below-average living costs, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre has the 11th smallest young population," according to a media release from the porch.com, a website that promises to make "moving, insurance and improving your home simple."

The site defines "mid-size metro" as having 350,000 to 999,999 people. While no individual city in the region comes close to that, the vast swath of land considered in the MSA easily fits the category with well over half-a-million people.

Small Metro areas in the report range from 100,000 to 349,000, while large ones have a million or more people.

The report notes that the country's population overall continues to age, but that one counter to the trend on a local level could be to draw more young people who "tend to be more mobile than their older counterparts." It further argues that "Cheaper cities where young people can afford to rent or own a home are especially attractive to those who may still be saddled with student loans or are just starting out in their careers."

The census shows that nationwide only about 38% of the population is under age 30. But there's also evidence "some more affordable cities and states have become especially popular among younger age groups." Overall, the report says, "more affordable states tend to have larger young populations."

To determine which of the cheapest cities have the largest young population, the website researchers ranked locations according to the share of the population under 30, calculating the cost of living, the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment and median earnings of full-time workers under 30. Metro areas with fewer than 100,000 residents and those with higher-than-average cost of living were excluded.

Statistically, if the theory that younger people like moving to cheaper places holds true, the local MSA should be luring more young workers. The regional cost of living is 8.5% lower than the national average, the median cost of a 1-bedroom rental is $724 compared to the national median of $1,096, and the median earnings for full-time workers here is exactly the same as the national average: $34,000. In other words, move here to get the same pay while spending less.

The report makes no effort to explain why some cheaper places are not luring more young people. Maybe said people just don't know about the cost of living in this area, or maybe the region lacks some amenities available elsewhere that appeal to those under 30.

For the record, there are 33 mid-size metro areas with cheaper costs of living, the cheapest being Brownsville-Harlington MSA in Texas. But this is the second cheapest midsize metro in Pennsylvania, and the cheapest — Youngstown/Warren/Boardman — stretches pretty deep into Ohio.

Yet the local MSA had the lowest percentage of people under 30 among mid-size metros in the state, and the 11th lowest among the 65 mid-size metros included in the report, which likely accounts for why it got an overall ranking in the study of 55th among those 65.

Maybe the moral of the story is that being cheap isn't always enough.

The full report can be seen at porch.com

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