How wages for young people in the U.S. changed, 1980-2013

Young People Wages in U.S.

If you think modern-day San Francisco might someday go the way of Detroit, well, there’s some new evidence you should consider. (Here’s some more ill-fated logic on what might someday “doom” SF.)

This comes from an article by way of The Atlantic and CityLab, linked here.¬†Some of these data points at the bottom are hard to read, but let’s start with 1980. Coincidentally, that’s the year I was born. (Not sure why you would ever care about that, but eh.) What U.S. cities had the highest median income for young people in the year Reagan came to the Presidency?

Highest Median Income Young People 1980

As you can probably read before it gets blurred, the top four are:

  1. Flint, MI
  2. Detroit, MI
  3. Chicago, IL
  4. San Jose, CA

OK, so that was 1980. What about 2013? 

Here’s the 2013 figures:

Median Income Young People 2013

Top four in 2013?

  1. San Jose, CA
  2. San Francisco, CA
  3. Washington, DC
  4. Seattle, WA

That’s pretty different, right? In 1980, three of the four cities were in the upper Midwest — two were in Michigan! — and in 2013, all four cities were coastal — and two were in California!

I honestly believe all this stuff moves in trend waves, so we went Midwest to the coasts over 34 years in terms of where young people can earn money — but eventually the cost of living in those cities above will drive people back inland. You already see this a little bit: the cities with the largest share of young people right now are mostly non-coastal.

Here’s another chart about how median income flipped in California and the Rust Belt since 1980:

U.S. Median Income Changes, 1980-2013

I wouldn’t 100 percent count the Rust Belt out of the game just yet — there’s evidence that their potential impending renaissance could come on the backs of the creative class — but right now, the trend for young people looking for money and opportunity is certainly (a) west of the Mississippi and (b) towards a coastal area (or maybe Provo or Denver).

Interestingly, San Jose has one of the lowest percentages of “share of population that’s single,” so that intersects with this discussion as well. Flip side of that argument: if you’re specifically a woman looking to get married, there’s perhaps no better place to go than San Jose.

Bottom line? You can use statistics to prove almost anything, but between 1980 and 2013, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the attractive destinations for young, potentially upwardly-mobile employees have stayed exactly the same.


Ted Bauer