By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/29/2008 7:26:05 AM ET 2008-04-29T11:26:05

Joey Hyde, a 25-year old physics grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, likes living in downtown Philadelphia because he can get around without a car, make spontaneous plans with friends or his fiancée for a night on the town, and enjoy a great meal at his favorite upscale Cuban restaurant for half of what it would cost in Manhattan.

“Philadelphia is pretty livable for people my age,” says Hyde, a Florida native who moved to the city at 22 after completing his undergrad degree in Pittsburgh. “It’s a lifestyle like New York’s, but much more affordable. People here can bunk up together like in Brooklyn if they want, but real estate is a lot less expensive than in New York.”

Hyde’s assessment sums up new findings from Apartments.com and Careerbuilder’s CBCampus.com job site, which today released their list of the top 10 most affordable cities for young college grads. The survey ranks Philadelphia at the top of the list, based on research criteria including the population of people age 20 to 24, the number of entry-level job openings suitable for new grads, and the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

According to the data, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $962, 58 percent less than the $1,562 monthly rent on a one-bedroom in New York. And, if the survey is correct, there are plenty of jobs available for young workers both in and beyond college. 

Finding a place, and finding a job
Of course, many factors play in to a young adult’s choice of where to live—and cities around the country have struggled for years to offer both lifestyle amenities and compelling job opportunities, and in a setting that’s affordable to younger workers.                      

According to Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Chicago-based research organization CEOs for Cities, roughly two-thirds of young adults consider where they want to live first, then consider howthey’ll earn a living.

“Jobs aren’t always the first thing young people are looking for in a city,” she says. “They want a city that’s clean and attractive, offers the lifestyle they want, is safe, ‘green’ and with outdoor amenities, and that has the kind of housing they like. Lastly, they want a city that will enhance their professional reputation.”

However, given the current fragile economy, new graduates may need to consider their employability more carefully as they scope out potential cities. Grads this year face stiff competition now.

“Employers are proceeding with caution as they wait to see how the nation’s economic situation unfolds,” said Brent Rasmussen, chief operating officer at CareerBuilder.com.

According to CareerBuilder research among 3,147 hiring managers at major employers, 58 percent plan to hire recent college graduates this year, down from 79 percent during 2007. The pay isn’t great: Most employers (42 percent) plan to pay salaries below $30,000; 32 percent will pay $30,000 to $40,000 range; 15 percent will pay $40,000 to $50,000; and 11 percent will pay more than $50,000.             

Personal versus practical concerns
While housing availability is important to new grads, so too is the opportunity to participate in key industries. The list of top cities includes some usual suspects — Boston, a hub for research and academia; New York, the financial and media capital; Dallas and Houston, where energy and big business thrive.

Frontrunner Philadelphia, along with other cities on the list, has been working to enhance its reputation among younger workers and prevent the “brain drain” that happens when young adults graduate and leave. Phil Hopkins, vice president of research at Select Greater Philadelphia, a regional marketing organization, says his organization and the non-profit group Campus Philly are both working to retain and educate young adults and college grads about local career options before they hit the job market.

“New York is the undisputed financial capitol of the U.S. Washington D.C. is the political capitol,” says Hopkins. “Our strength is in pharmaceuticals and life sciences. There are 85 pharmaceutical companies within an hour and a half of the center city.”

His job, he says, is to make sure students are aware of this.                                              

Nice homes – for now, anyway                                                                                                   Cities focus on attracting young workers both because younger workers are more entrepreneurial and because, once they hit 30, they often land in life circumstances — marriage, home ownership, parenthood, caring for aging parents — which can slow their mobility, says Coletta.

Hyde, who’ll earn a doctorate and get married by the time he graduates from an Ivy League college, isn’t necessarily loyal to Philadelphia. Asked if he wants to work there once he’s completed his education said “Not particularly.”

“The nice parts of Philly are really nice. But the bad parts are awful,” he says. “It’s the flip side of cheap real estate.”

But for a certain type of Gen Y renter, Philadelphia—and the other cities on the list—will offer just the right mix of job and lifestyle options.

Hopkins, the Select Greater Philadelphia executive, says that his son, a 24-year old working at insurer AIG and living with his parents to save money, is now debating whether to move to the New York area or stay closer to home. Because he wants to buy a home, he has no options in Manhattan—and few options in nearby New Jersey cities.

“He can’t afford the monthly payments in Hoboken, Jersey City, or Manhattan,” Hopkins says. “So now he’s thinking about Philadelphia.”

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