The financial prospects of young adults in the U.S. look pretty grim across the board. But not in Hartford.
Times are financially tough for young adults in the U.S. As Derek Thompson recently reported in The Atlantic, since the start of the Great Recession in 2007, the median wage for people between the ages of 25 and 34, adjusted for inflation, has fallen in every major industry except for health care. And we can't save money when we aren't making any: The savings rate among Americans under 35 has decreased by 1.8 percent over the past decade.
But there exists at least one place where younger workers are doing quite a bit better than these national trends suggest—a city that boasts both higher average wages and a lower average cost of living. It's a magical land of opportunity called ... Hartford?
Yes, Hartford. I'm not joking, even a little bit.
When you dig into the numbers, the Hartford, Connecticut, metro area emerges, beaconlike, in the darkness: It has become one of the most lucrative job markets for young Americans.
New Census Bureau data show that full-time workers in greater Hartford aged 18 to 34 earned a median income of approximately $42,322 between 2009 and 2013. That's a higher median income for young workers than in New York, Seattle, or Chicago. Millennial wages in many smaller metropolitan areas, including Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver, also lag behind Hartford's. The disparity appears negligible in certain cases; young New Yorkers earned a mere $300 less than their Hartford counterparts, for example. But it's when you factor in the cost of living that Hartford starts looking remarkably attractive.
The graph above compares the regional price parities (RPPs) of the Hartford metro area (orange) in 2009 and 2012 with the metros of Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. As you can see, Hartford's cost of living measures have remained roughly the same, compared to the national average, within this time period. In Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York, the cost of living has increased compared to the national average.
"When I first moved here, [Hartford] had deals that I couldn't pass up," says Mitch Jackson, 29, who has lived in downtown Hartford for five years. "When you have a corporate job, and you're beginning to make a little money, it can really go a long way," he adds.
Jackson doesn't just benefit from the city's inexpensive lifestyle. He's also worked his way into its robust health sector. A senior accountant with UnitedHealthCare, Jackson is employed in one of America's most financially viable industries. He also runs his own private company part-time, which, Jackson tells CityLab, he's able to finance because of the city's low costs.
As the graph above demonstrates, 18-to-24-year-olds working in the health care field have seen their wages grow by more than 10 percent since 2007. Nicknamed "Insurance City," Hartford booms in this field; the metro area boasts nearly 400 separate employers in health care and social assistance fields, according to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center [PDF]. Greater Hartford is home to the headquarters' of major health insurance providers Aetna and Cigna. Moreover, health care practitioners and technical support staff in metro Hartford earn more than $40 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is 12 percent higher than the national average.
To be clear, there are a number of drawbacks a young professional will face in Hartford compared to larger cities. Public transportation is limited, for one thing. An estimated 87 percent of Greater Hartford's young professionals drove or carpooled to work between 2009 and 2013, according to recent census figures. To compare, less than half of the same age group drove to work in metro New York during the same period, and roughly 67 percent in Boston. Hartford can also give off a bit of a sleepy vibe. "It doesn't have nearly as vibrant a lifestyle [as Boston]," Mitch Jackson, the young resident, told me. Not to mention, the Hartford Whalers won't be returning to the XL Center any time soon.
But if you're a young adult set on owning your own home one day, sacrificing a livelier nightlife scene in favor of Hartford's might just be worth it. Zillow, the online real estate database, recently named Greater Hartford as 2015's second-best market for first-time homeowners. Single-family housing sales grew by more than 11 percent in the metro area between 2012 and 2013, according to the Hartford Courant.
As a Boston-loving, Massachusetts native who has has viewed Connecticut suspiciously for years, I don't say this lightly: Consider Hartford, young people. Even I am.