Fivethirtyeight’s Ben Casselman published an article recently entitled “Think Millennials Prefer the City? Think Again.” He cites the most recently published migration data from the Census Bureau’s CPS (Current Population Survey) to show that more millennials moved from “principal cities” (a designation of the Office of Management and Budget) to “suburbs” in 2013-2014:
“529,000 Americans ages 25 to 29 moved from cities out to the suburbs in 2014; only 426,000 moved in the other direction. Among younger millennials, those in their early 20s, the trend was even starker: 721,000 moved out of the city, compared with 554,000 who moved in.”
This is grossly inaccurate, but it’s not Casselman’s fault. He’s reading the table correctly. The problem is with the way the CPS migration data is tabulated and presented. Other researchers have used the same data set to make similar points about migration, relying on the same bad data. The truth is harder to nail down, but based on population distributions from the same survey, it looks like over the past 5 years about 3 million more Americans age 20-29 moved from suburbs to principal cities than from cities to suburbs, with last year being the largest net gain for cities yet.
That’s an error several orders of magnitude in the wrong direction and should be a little startling. Proving it is fairly easy, though. Explaining it is more difficult.