Inquirer Editorial: Give millennials reasons to stay

Posted: January 27, 2014

The staying power of city-life lures that have helped increase Philadelphia's welcome and burgeoning young-adult population goes only so far, according to a new study.

Turns out what these enthusiastic city dwellers want over the long term, along with their caramel macchiatos and craft beers, are safer and cleaner streets, better-performing public schools, and a far more robust jobs climate.

With findings released just days after the senseless murder of a promising, young architect - gunned down during a purse snatching in gentrifying Northern Liberties - the Pew Charitable Trusts' look at the city's millennials, those ages 20 to 34, couldn't be more timely.

It's horrific street crimes like the slaying of Amber Long, 26, that - while very rare - threaten to ice the city's youthful renaissance. Yet it's at least hopeful that the Pew report actually ranked crime statistics as third, behind jobs and schools, among the concerns that would prompt half the city's young adults to pack up and leave within five to 10 years.

Throw in the city's regressive tax structure, and the list should be familiar to earlier generations. For decades, many middle-class Philadelphia residents have departed for the suburbs as soon as their firstborn reached school age, having concluded that private-school tuition and other costs of city living were more onerous than higher suburban property taxes and the hassle of longer commutes.

What's different and even upbeat about the outlook now is that the city may have its best shot in a generation to make progress in addressing millennials' concerns. For one thing, the city starts from a position of relative strength because of young adults' special affinity for "the excitement, convenience, and variety of experiences" that a big city can offer, as Pew noted.

If the romance is to endure, however, an engaged civic and business community will have to act fast. No single economic initiative will jump-start the job climate more quickly than acting on the Center City District's call to reform a job-killing tax structure that relies too heavily on wage and business levies.

In the schools, the funding crisis must be resolved under the new leadership being put in place. That's critical on so many levels, but particularly to reverse draconian thrift measures that have only served to further diminish the quality of education in the School District.

With violent crime, a mainstay strategy must be to target illegal guns and crime hot spots to make both older and emerging hip neighborhoods safer places.

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