they tend to head out of core cities to suburban locations; roughly one in four people in
their mid to late twenties lives in an urban location but by the time those people are in
their early thirties, that number drops precipitously and continues dropping into their
eighties. In fact, younger millennials, notes the website FiveThirtyEight, are moving to
the ’burbs at at a faster clip than previous generations. What’s slowing that trend is
economics. Many can’t afford to move, or to transition into a traditional adulthood.
The millennial housing crisis is reshaping the geography of opportunity. Although millennial
rates of homeownership have dropped nationwide, the most precipitous declines have been
in such metropolitan areas as New York, Miami, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and
Los Angeles. In all these areas, public policy has regulatory barriers in the way of suburban
This is not the planners’ happy future of density dwelling, transit-riding millennials but a
present of overcrowding, the nation’s highest level of poverty and, inevitably, a continued
drop in fertility in comparison to less regulated, and less costly, states such as Utah, Texas,
and Tennessee that have been among those with the biggest surges in millennial migration.
Once identified with youth, California’s urban areas are now experiencing a significant
decline in both their millennial and Xer populations. By the 2030s, large swaths of the
state—particularly along the coast—could become geriatric belts, with an affluent older
boomer population served by a largely minority servant class. How feudal!
Ownership of land has always been a critical component of middle-class wealth and power.
Those celebrating the retreat from homeownership among millennials are embracing the
long-term decline of that middle class, two thirds of whose wealth is in their homes.
The potential decline in ownership also represents a direct assault on future American
prosperity. Jason Furman, who served as chairman of President Obama’s Council of
Economic Advisors, calculated that a single-family home contributes 2.5 times as much to
the national GDP as an apartment unit. Investment in residential properties has dropped to
its lowest share of overall spending since World War II; by some estimates reviving that
would be enough to return America to 4 percent growth.
With so many millennials unable to afford homes, or even to see a path to future ownership,
household formation has been far slower than in the recent past. Rather than a surge of
middle-class buyers, we are seeing the rise of a largely property-less generation whose
members will remain economically marginal into their thirties or forties.
Indeed by 2030, according to a recent Deloitte study, millennials will account for barely
16 percent of the nation’s wealth while home-owning boomers, then entering their
eighties and nineties, will still control a remarkable 45 percent of the nation’s wealth.
If this continues, we may have to all but abandon the notion of the United States as a
middle-class nation. Instead of having a new generation that strikes out on their own, we
may be incubating a culture that focuses on such things as the latest iPhone, binge watching
on Netflix, something they do far more than even their Xer counterparts.
Progressives who embrace these developments are abandoning one of the central tenets of
mainstream liberalism. In the past, many traditional liberals embraced the old American