Editorial: Closer to home 

Most young Americans take the adage “grow where you are planted” to heart. Nearly six in 10 young adults live within 10 miles of where they grew up while eight in 10 live within a 100-mile radius, according to a study released earlier this summer by the U.S. Census Bureau and Harvard University. 

An interactive map at www.migrationpatterns.org lets users select any of 741 commuting zones around the country to see how many young people stay in those areas and where those who leave end up.  

The data looks at individuals born from 1984 to 1992. Childhood locations were measured at age 16 and locations in young adulthood were measured at age 26. 

Maine is divided into four commuting zones with the state’s southern tip lumped in with New Hampshire. Hancock County and much of the middle part of the state are included in the Bangor commuting zone. Sixty-two percent of young people who lived in this zone at age 16 were still here a decade later. That’s compared to 52 percent in Washington County, 67 percent in the Portland zone and 58 percent in northern Maine.  

Fifteen percent of young adults from the Bangor region moved to other parts of Maine (mainly the Portland area) and 23 percent moved out of state, mainly concentrated in New England and sprinkled along both coasts. The average young adult who grew up in the region moved about 269 miles away for their job. That is 88 miles above the national average of 181 miles. 

Money and geographic mobility are linked. Those most likely to leave Maine for opportunities in other states had parents whose income level was in the top 20 percent. Less than half of young adults from high-earning families in the Bangor area stayed in the immediate region (48 percent) while 36 percent moved out of state. Young adults whose parents were in the highest income bracket on average moved about 380 miles away for work. That is 111 miles farther than the average for local young adults. Attending college out of state likely has a substantial effect on where graduates eventually settle. Some may yet boomerang back to Maine. The data is only a snapshot in time. 

Overall, across the nation and income brackets, most Americans pursuing wage improvements did so in a limited geographic area. Researchers concluded that “for many individuals the ‘radius of economic opportunity’ appears to be quite narrow.” 

It will be interesting to see what effects shakeups in the local labor and housing markets will have on migration patterns moving forward. Will teens and those in their early 20s stay put and be tomorrow’s nurses, electricians, builders, accountants and clerks? Or will more move on? Those deeply individual decisions collectively have enormous impact on both the workforce and community identity. Major shifts in this demographic will have long-term implications for maintaining a vibrant, year-round population. It bears considering who stays close to home and why.  

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