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Connecticut confronts the millennial generation

You really need to get know the millennials. Young adults, defined as roughly between the ages of 20 and 36, they are now the largest generation by population size at 79.8 million. Sorry boomers.

Connecticut needs to figure out how to attract more millennials and keep the ones it has. During the first six years of the current decade, Connecticut lost .6 percent of its millennials.

Given its size, Madison Avenue covets this cohort. But they can be a hard sell. Perhaps schooled in the lessons of the Great Recession, millennials are more frugal in spending on dining and entertainment than the couple of generations before them. Their big-spending priorities are quite pragmatic — health care, housing, education and stashing money in 401(k)s.

They tend to live at home longer, rent rather than get tied down with a mortgage, and often delay marriage and children. Back in 1963, eight out of 10 adults ages 25 to 35 were in a married relationship. Today only four in 10 are betrothed.

Politically, only about half of eligible millennials turned out to vote in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton won the youth vote with 55 percent, down from the 60 percent Barack Obama attracted in 2012, while Donald Trump garnered 37-percent support, according to the Brookings Institute.

Starting today and over the next week, Day readers will be introduced to a few of our local millennials — some who stayed here and some who moved here — and find out what led to their decisions to make southeastern Connecticut home, at least for now, and what may be driving some of their generational counterparts away.

Having moved from the Pittsburgh area, for example, Monica Fish has found New London absolutely Gucci. Her work with young people on her TigerEye Dance Team, and the associated relationships has led to her forming an extensive fam in the Whaling City.

When Yanitza Cubilette moved from Miami, of all places, to New London, she got woke (socially aware, for all you non-millennials). She works with Hearing Youth Voices, an advocacy group dedicated to “fight, and deconstruct systems of oppression in our community.” Among its achievements was successfully working to amend high school attendance rules that failed to consider special circumstances and became an obstacle to qualified students graduating. That’s so extra!

Joel and Robert Valenti, who returned to the region to work in the family business after traveling to and living in other parts of the country, can see why other members of their generation may not find Connecticut “extra.”

There is the lack of good-paying jobs, particularly in the technology and science fields. And there are the winters, long and cold and, for many, depressing. It’s enough to leave a person salty.

Connecticut also is seen as at a disadvantage because it lacks any large cities. Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest city with only 144,000 people, and it definitely doesn’t scream Gucci.

Young, highly educated and successful millennials are trending to large cities, attracted by the entertainment options, buzz of activity and excitement.

But no size fits all for any generation. Certainly some millennials love this place. The bigger challenge for Connecticut will be enticing the high-tech industries that attract these young workers. Unfortunately, the industries too have been moving to larger cities because that is where the young professionals want to be.

The answer might be targeting smaller startups with growth opportunities, and building the case that Connecticut has enough hip little cities, expansive beaches, hiking trails and other natural amenities to keep many millennials happy.

It’s either that or wait for another generation and hope trends change.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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