Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Every year New York City draws young people in pursuit of fame, fortune, excitement and relevance. They are a popular subject for literature, theater, and Gotham Gazette (see Gotham Gazette's newcomers weblogs and issue of the week article). But who exactly are the recent college graduates in the city? Where do they come from? What do they do for a living? What sorts of living arrangements do they have?

It is possible to paint a demographic portrait of younger college graduates in the city and compare them with the rest of the population between 18 and 65. To do this I used a newly released data file from the 2000 census. Of course, the severe downturn in the economy in the past three years may have changed the picture somewhat. Still it is instructive to look at who the young college graduates were in 2000.

About 273,000 New Yorkers were college grads 28 years of age or younger in 2000 who were either not enrolled in a graduate degree program or if they were enrolled were also working full-time. (Defining them this way eliminates those who are primarily pursuing graduate education). About 57 percent were female, compared to 52 percent for the rest of the population 18 to 65. About 59 percent were non-Hispanic whites, 11 percent black, 16 percent Asian and 10 percent Hispanic. So these young grads are much more female, much more white, and much more Asian and much less black and Hispanic than the population at large. About 10 percent lived abroad in 1995, while 45 percent lived in New York City and an equal number moved here from elsewhere. Thus many obtained their college degrees in the New York City's colleges, most particularly, of course, CUNY. About 18 percent were non-citizens compared to 26 percent of the rest of the population.

Fully 84 percent of recent graduates were working in 2000, compared to only about 60 percent of the other non-senior adults. Almost two-thirds of college grads (compared to less than one third of the others who are working) were in higher status occupations: management, business and finance, or professional and related occupations. Over half use public transit to get to work (much higher than the third reported by the rest of the population), and the commute took them a median of a half hour. Though the recent college graduates and others in New York City reported 40 median hours worked per week, the recent graduates earned a median of $32,000 per year compared to $26,000 for the others.

As to living arrangements, about one-fifth were married, compared to almost half of the rest of the population. About one-quarter of the recent grads live with their parents, while about one-third lived with roommates. On average the grads lived with 1.66 other persons, while the rest of the adults lived with 2.44. They did pay a lot more to house their smaller households -- $1050 compared to $725 for median rent. This is not surprising, since as the accompanying map shows, the highest concentration of recent grads were in such "hot" areas as Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg, Park Slope, and the Upper East Side. One can easily see that they are very oriented towards Manhattan, especially Manhattan downtown.

Thus the young college graduates such as those depicted in the Broadway puppet musical Avenue Q, when compared to New Yorkers at large are quite privileged. Many work in good jobs and earn decent livings. They flock to the more fashionable residential areas in the city and are able to pay the rents to live there. They renew the ranks of the "creative class" recently identified by Professor Richard Florida as very important for urban growth. So though it may be a frightening and difficult prospect for these quarter million new recruits to New York City adulthood, it seems that the city is good place to be young, and it is good for the city that they are here.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.