Most millennials, especially Latinos and Black people, are staying close to home. What does that mean for economic opportunity?

A new study from the Census Bureau and Harvard University puts a focus on the importance of "locally-targeted" policies.

Shoppers in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, on Oct. 24, 2021. Nina Westervelt / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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More than two-thirds of young adults in the United States live close to the homes they grew up in, a new Census Bureau and Harvard University study found, with Latinos, Black people and those from low-income families who left home only moving a short distance away.

According to one of the report’s authors, the findings, which were released Monday, show that economic opportunities for Hispanic and Black young adults, as well as those from low-income families, are closer to home, because those groups are less likely to move farther away.

“One of the questions is if someone provides lots of job opportunities in a given city, do the benefits of those policies go to people who grew up there, or do people who come from other places benefit from that?” Harvard doctoral student Ben Sprung-Keyser said in a phone interview with NBC News. “This tells us that most of the people who benefit are people who grew up there.” 

“Locally-targeted policies can have locally-targeted effects, and that should impact how we think about making local investments,” he said. The research “tells us something about the effectiveness of local investment policy.”

By the age of 26, 69% of young adults lived in the commuting zone they grew up in; 80% had migrated less than 100 miles; 90% had moved less than 500 miles.

“For many individuals, particularly non-white individuals and those from low-income families, the ‘radius of economic opportunity’ appears to be quite narrow,” the report said.

On average, Latinos had shorter migration distances than their white counterparts. The average distance Latinos moved away from home was 144 miles compared to 190, largely in part due to a greater share of Hispanics — 78% — residing in their childhood commuting zone, 11% more than their white counterparts.

Commuting zones are a collection of counties that reflect a local labor market. The United States has more than 700 commuting zones.

Black adults had the shortest distance moved from their hometown at 130 miles. Asians held the highest distance with 223 miles.

The study looked at individuals born between 1984 and 1992. According to the Pew Research Center, people born between 1981 and 1996 are considered millennials.

Sprung-Keyser, along with a Harvard economics professor and a census researcher, investigated where the millennials in their sample grew up, where they went once they got older, and the average distances they moved away from home. The report also dives into the extent to which people moved in response to economic opportunities.

Those components work together to create what Sprung-Keyser and his colleagues call the “radius of economic opportunity.” 

Parental income also contributed to the distance traveled. Those with higher-income parents were found to travel farther distances than those with lower-income parents.

For young Black adults, researchers identified a migrant pattern they referred to as the "New Great Migration", indicating that young Black adults who grew up in wealthy households were twice as likely than low-income families to move to Atlanta, Dallas and Houston; and 10 times more likely to move to Washington, D.C.

For Latino millennials who left their childhood community zones, the top destinations were Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio and Phoenix.

Researchers analyzed decennial census, survey and tax data to measure migration between locations in childhood and young adulthood (age 16 and age 26).

Among millennials, multigenerational living is up — the share of young adults living in a parent’s home grew from 8% in 1971 to 17% in 2021, a recent Pew Research Center survey showed, citing education attainment differences and financial pressures as contributing factors for the increase.

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