BREAKINGVIEWS-Silicon Valley has a millennials problem

by Reuters
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 20:12 GMT

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Gina Chon

SAN FRANCISCO, April 17 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Silicon Valley has a millennials problem. Recent surveys show young adults want to leave the San Francisco area. Of the seemingly intractable issues they cited as reasons, few are new. But they're now threatening the region's ability to attract and keep talent.

That has not been much of a problem in the past. The Bay Area's strong economy and the lure of tech companies helped spur a steady increase in population, adding a 10-year peak of more than 102,000 net residents in 2013, according to the California Department of Finance.

But since then, growth has slowed with the region adding 38,000 net residents in 2018, reflecting a 10-year low. Domestic migration out of the region played a big role. Affluent Santa Clara County, located south of San Francisco and home to the headquarters of Google parent Alphabet and Apple , saw the largest decrease.

Recent polls show millennials are among the most likely to leave. Some two-fifths of people between the ages of 18 and 34 working in the technology sector say they plan to leave the San Francisco area in the next 12 months, according to a Brunswick Group survey released last week.

About two-thirds of people living in the Bay Area said the quality of life has deteriorated in the past five years, according to another poll released by the San Jose Mercury News and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. They blame housing costs, homelessness and traffic jams. Increasing wildfires, the prospect of long-term water scarcity and other climate change-related concerns also made the top 10. That has larger implications for California, a $2.6 trillion economy representing 12 percent of U.S. GDP.

In addition, that survey shows the area risks becoming less diverse. African-Americans topped ethnic groups who said they were likely to move out of the Bay Area at 71 percent, followed by 53 percent of Latinos.

Boston, Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina could be attractive alternatives for younger workers given their lower cost of living and concentration of universities. Last year, North Face parent VF Corp announced it was moving from the San Francisco area to Denver, another growing hot spot. The Bay area's loss will be other cities' gain.

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- Some two-fifths of workers in the technology sector between the ages of 18 and 34 plan to leave the San Francisco area in the next 12 months, according to a Brunswick Group survey released on April 5. Across age groups, 55 percent of tech employees said they expected their company to hire staff, though 50 percent said it's more difficult to fill vacancies than it was a year ago.

- Separately, 55 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds said it was likely they would move out of the Bay Area over the next few years, according to a poll released by the San Jose Mercury News and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group on March 24. A total of 44 percent of all voters in the survey agreed; by ethnicity, the breakdown was 71 percent for African-Americans, 53 percent for Latinos, 39 percent for whites and 38 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders.

- Some 65 percent of residents living in five counties in the region said the quality of life had gotten worse over the past five years. The top reasons cited were house prices and cost of living, in addition to homelessness, traffic congestion and increasing wildfires. Long-term water availability was the 10th most popular reason.

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(Editing by Antony Currie and Martin Langfield)

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