Is Sarasota’s Economy Repelling the Youth?

I have frequently recognized the excitement in people’s reaction when they learn that I graduated from New College of Florida and decided to stay in Sarasota to work. “You’ve stayed! That’s what we need, more young people staying and working in our community!” In reviewing demographic data from the 2014 SCOPE Community Report Card, the cause of their excitement is apparent. dec fig1

Figure 1: Median Age, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.

The median age for Sarasota County is 16.4 years older than the national median age and 12.4 years greater than the Florida median age! Why isn’t the younger generation staying or moving to Sarasota County? We have great weather year round (it may get a little too hot, but those hot days are great beach days!), beautiful beaches, great food….who wouldn’t want to build a life here? Well, after reviewing a number of articles, two problems strike as the major Sarasota County youth repellant: the lack of jobs and the lack of affordable housing. The apparent lack of both jobs that match college graduates’ qualifications and affordable housing that would enable younger people to start building their lives serves as quite the unique dilemma. We will explore Sarasota’s dilemma through an exploration of what’s occurring in other areas in the United States and zoom back to what’s occurring in Sarasota County.

Jobs versus Affordable Housing

The problem highlighted by AP Economics writer Josh Boak in his article "Why areas with good jobs have hard-to-afford homes," is defined clearly in the title of the article. As young adults are looking for both a place to live and a place to commence their career, this article suggests that it is difficult to find both in the same place. In hopes to build a career, people are moving to ‘the top job-generating areas” where they have to live with roommates and rent space as opposed to being able to begin to invest in a place of their own. The problem flips in areas with affordable homes—the job opportunities are insufficient.

The Atlantic’s senior editor Derek Thompson explores the same dilemma in “Why it’s so Hard for Millennials to find a Place to Live and Work,” by opening with the question “So what’ll be: Dayton or San Francisco” creating a contrast between the city with the most affordable housing and the city with greater social mobility. He presents the struggle to obtain what he calls the “two halves of the American Dream” by presenting the data that illustrates that “the cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility” and vice versa. Thompson illustrates these problems with Chetty and Kolko’s maps (as seen below) with the color red representing the worst condition on both scales.

dec fig2

Figure 2: “Economic Opportunity, by Location” Raj Chetty

dec fig3

Figure 3: “Percent of For-Sale Homes that are Affordable with a Median Household Income” Kolko/Trulia

The Rent is Too High and The Jobs Too Few

As seen in figure two, the economic opportunity in Sarasota and the majority of Florida is lacking. In “Exporting our best and brightest,” Herald Tribune guest columnist Erica Earl highlights that young adults leave Sarasota and Manatee because “they cannot find local jobs that match their skills, education and expectation.” So, from the data presented in Boak and Thompson’s articles you would assume that Sarasota has affordable housing. Unfortunately, you would assume wrong. In “Trouble with the wage gauge,” Herald Tribune reporter Zac Anderson highlights the unaffordability of housing in Sarasota. In this article, Anderson presents Zillow’s analysis finding Sarasota’s rent burden to be "one of the highest in the nation."

Is the presence of both unaffordable housing and insufficient economic opportunities unique to Sarasota alone? Probably not. And the dilemma Sarasota is faced with may have to do with the current nature of our demographics. But, in a community that strongly desires a greater youth population, it would probably be best to increase both economic opportunity and affordable housing, becoming one of the most attractive counties for youth looking to begin their independent lives! Let’s break the trend and become the community that embodies the underpinnings of American Dream.