Don’t take place rankings seriously

We’re all guilty of it, but the least we can do for readers is to be honest about it: most place rankings are pseudo-intellectual clickbait catering to the near-endless demand for urban planning and economic development “insights.” Read them if you must, appreciate whatever signal they can provide about what real underlying data may suggest, but don’t take them seriously.

The latest example making the rounds here in Nashville provides yet another take on the migratory patterns of our most celebrated inhabitants of urban environments: The Millennials.

Here’s a link to the article: Forget New York — millennials are flocking to 10 US cities to get a job, buy a home, and start a life. The Trulia report is here: How Will a Turbulent 2017 Affect Housing in 2018?

Now, these are all wonderful places, worthy of your careful consideration no matter your age. But check the misleading headline — “flocking to” suggests moves, and that’s not what the underlying data used to derive the rankings shows. The rankings are based partially on Trulia home searches, and that’s not the same as actual moves. To Trulia’s credit, the author is pretty clear in the report about how to interpret that indicator as one signal used there for the purpose of forecasting very uncertain housing market trends.

Shockingly, others were not so careful.

If you want to investigate migration trends for yourself, there are two sources commonly used by analysts: (1) U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (accessible via Census Flows Mapper); and (2) IRS migration data.

For guidance, check out Lyman Stone’s blog. He’s written extensively about strengths and weaknesses of these data sources, as well as how to interpret them correctly. Or you can check out a piece I wrote a couple of years ago: Migration Matters: Is California Ruining Austin?

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