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Nearly 15 years ago, Richard Florida burst onto the intellectual scene with a series of fascinating books about the rise of the “creative class” – the group of young movers and shakers who were gentrifying neighborhoods across America and forcing a re-think of U.S. urban policy. You can thank the creative class for many of the features of metropolitan areas that we all take for granted these days – a Starbucks in every upscale neighborhood, ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi, and a focus on creating cities that are both livable and walkable.
The geographic distribution of the Millennial creative class
And now Mr. Florida is back with a new study that looks at how Millennials age 25-to-34 are contributing to the geographic distribution of the “creative class” across the entire nation. When Florida first started doing his research more than a decade ago, there were a few metropolitan areas that everyone was trying to emulate – like Seattle or New York. But now it looks like the “creative class” has grown, expanded and distributed itself across the United States to a point where every metro area has a little slice of Brooklyn in it. Millennials are turning every city (and suburb or exurb) into high-tech ecosystems, filled with all the amenities that once were possible to find in only a few American cities.
The most educated generation ever
If there is one figure that really stands out in the new survey, it’s just how educated this new Millennial creative class is. Back in 1980, only 24% of Americans age 25-to-34 had college degrees. In 2015, that figure had ballooned to 36%. And, with this growth in educational status has come an even greater focus on economic opportunities in knowledge, professional and creative occupations in every American city. In short, living in a city like Cleveland (sorry, LeBron) no longer sounds as horrifying as it once did.
The role of social media in forming the Millennial creative class
So what role does social media play in all this? You could plausibly make the argument that social media has been a major stimulus in the growth of the Millennial creative class. Not only are these young Millennials well-educated in the traditional sense (i.e. a college degree), they are also much more aware of how to use online courses, micro-certifications and other social media-friendly educational tools as part of their career growth.
And, of course, social media has helped to make the Millennial generation the most connected generation in history. That social connectivity has made it easier than ever before for these Millennials to disperse geographically across the nation. At one time, young adults graduating from a college in the Philadelphia area might have considered a future career only on the East Coast, where they could remain close to their friends. Now, it’s entirely likely that they might consider living in a smaller city with a higher quality of living – maybe a cool, hip college town in the Midwest, or a tech hub in Texas, California or Washington State. They can keep up with their friends via Facebook and Instagram, so no worries.
And, as these Millennials spread out further, they will bring their social media savvy with them. When they consider job offers elsewhere, they will look to see that a high-tech ecosystem exists for them, that cities are wired with Google Fiber, and that Amazon considers the city tech-savvy enough for a potential new headquarters. Social media, in many ways, is at the core of this new super-connected, highly educated generation.