Survey says San Jose #1 for millennials. Experts disagree.

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A new survey claims San Jose is the top metropolitan area in the country for working millennials, but those in the know say that’s not the reality.

Commercial Cafe’s study says San Jose’s metropolitan area, which includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, is the best region for millennials based on four of seven indicators. The four areas San Jose ranks high in for millennials are employer-based health insurance, unemployment, education level and average income.

The survey states San Jose’s metropolitan area boasts the highest median millennial household earnings at about $150,800 per year. The average residents ages 25-34 can expect to earn $17,000 more than those in San Francisco and $44,145 more than those in Boston.

About 77% of millennials in the San Jose metro area have employer-based health insurance, and about 61% of millennials in the area hold at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the survey. Unemployment in this area is 2.5%, the third lowest rate among the 10 metro areas surveyed.

But local researchers say the survey left out important socioeconomic issues.

Scott Myers-Lipton, a San Jose State University sociology professor who helped prepare the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index,  said the top quality of life scores only make sense for the most wealthy people in the age bracket.

This year’s Pain Index indicated widening wealth gaps for people of color, with about 11.7% of Black residents and 11% of Latino residents living in poverty compared to 5.3% of white residents. A Joint Venture Silicon Valley report also found “shocking wealth disparity” with the top quarter of Silicon Valley earners holding 92% of the region’s wealth and the top 10% of earners holding 75%.

“Most social scientists know that statistics can cover and hide things, as well as reveal,” said Myers-Lipton. “The reality for BIPOC millennials is hidden by several of the statistics used in this ‘best opportunities millennial’ report.”

A Commercial Cafe survey shows how the San Jose metropolitan area compares to other cities for millennials to live and work. Image courtesy of Commercial Cafe.

An incomplete picture

The survey garnered additional scrutiny by local researchers, in part because San Jose has been ranked as one of the top five most expensive cities to rent in the nation, per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the first quarter of 2022.

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San Jose’s median monthly rent among all housing types is $3,495. That’s 59% higher than the national median, 17% higher than Boston and 6% lower than San Francisco, according to Zillow.

Myers-Lipton told the survey’s results are unlikely to be true for Black and Latino millennials, whose average annual incomes are about $70,000 and $60,000, respectively. Workers making those incomes cannot afford the median priced rent anywhere in the city, and cannot save to afford homes which now average at about $1.5 million. Almost half of families can’t afford basics like rent or food without government or nonprofit support.

While San Jose has the highest number of Black residents with college degrees at 37%, Myers-Lipton said they are still impacted by institutional racism. While the top 10% of earners control three quarters of the collective wealth, 73% of tech companies have zero Black people on executive teams. At Apple, there are no executives and senior managers who are African American, Pacific Islander and Indigenous American, according to this year’s Pain Index.

Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said he agrees the San Jose metro area is a good place to work, offering “progressive” companies and flexible work-life balance. But he said the survey does not take San Jose’s housing crisis into account.

“This is also a place where millennials are living at home with at least one parent,” he said. “But a lot of people are clearly making the choice—they’re saying it’s expensive, but it’s expensive for a reason.”

Hancock said the Commercial Cafe study doesn’t present the entire picture.

“They’re not saying, where’s the best place for people in the service sectors and the lower paying occupations,” he told “I’m guessing they’re saying where the most opportunity is, and the highest level of compensation.”

Commercial Cafe spokesperson Alex Ursu said the survey’s scope was limited to seven factors, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics. He said the survey creators recognize other factors such as education opportunities, social issues and climate contribute to an area’s perceived quality of life.

“Since most of these are not quantifiable, we could not include them in our study,” Ursu said.

Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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